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             Nicholas Hasluck

              Arcadia, 2016 

Hasluck brings sharp intelligence and sensitivity to morally ambiguous matters.

Peter Pierce, The Weekend Australian

 

What Hasluck adds so adroitly is a sense of a world in which ideals, political beliefs and self-interest are in constant tension.

Lorien Kaye, The Age

 

Nicholas Hasluck practised law in Perth for many years before turning his hand to literary works. His novel The Bellarmine Jug won The Age Book of the Year Award and he has been twice shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award. He has served as Chair of the Literature Board of the Australia Council and of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. 

 

 

Nicholas Hasluck, The Bradshaw Case,

extracts

‘Bradshaw.

The Bradshaw case.

     That’s how the legal system works. The name becomes a label, then a tag. It gets attached to the case until very little remains of the man himself, the bloke behind the words on a birth certificate, or the entry in a family tree. We are left with the shadow of who he was and what he did, a faint impression of his place in the scheme of things, his imprint on those who came after him.

     At that time I was new to Broome and still new to the law. It surprised me to see a man’s personality disappear in that way: a name on the court list at first, then a label for all the to-ing and fro-ing in the courtroom itself until, in the end, his words and deeds become simply part of the evidence, barely visible in the flow of palaver and legal posturing.

     It shouldn’t happen. It seems disrespectful, this process of disappearance, the gradual slide into anonymity as the so-called real issues emerge. But the law is like that. Blindfold for the sake of treating everyone fairly, it can sometimes finish up in the shadows and miss what the parties were really looking for—a verdict reflecting the truth of the matter.

     To me, the name in the court documents always meant Joseph Bradshaw, explorer, adventurer, fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, founder of a cold storage company on the shores of the Arafura Sea, a pioneer pastoralist until he lost his life in a Darwin hospital—killed by gangrene of the foot in the second year of the Great War. That’s him in a nutshell. Cap’n Joe Bradshaw at the helm of his lugger, or at the mouth of a sandstone cave, sketchbook in hand, the larger-than-life character I had heard so much about.’

(from Broome, Chapter 1)

 

‘ “We haven’t seen him.” The spokesman from the Land Council was looking me over with a shrewd dark glance. “If you lot say Jack Otway’s important to the case, he must be. But as to where he is…” The speaker shrugged and spread his hands. “Can’t say. He’s a dreamer with a mind of his own.”

     Sam swung round to confront Maggie. “And what about you, old woman? You and Tracker. Do you know where Jack Otway is? You’re his friends.”

     “I aint seen ’im. So leave me out.”

     “And Tracker?”

     “Ask him y’self.”

     “I will. But I’m asking you first. To see if you say the same thing.”

     “I’m going back Derby way.” Her tone suggested that this was a ploy she often used to fend off questions. “Be gone soon. So you can leave me out of it. You don’t need me and Tracker for some court case. Just keep’n us here.”

     “We may need both of you. So stick around. And don’t go anywhere without being told you can. Clear on that?”

     When she didn’t reply Sam raised a finger to emphasise the point. “Are we clear on that? Yes or no?”

     I couldn’t catch her muttered reply but it was obviously enough to let Sam move on. He turned back to the rest of us. “We can find some other expert if you want.” He raised one hand and made the money sign. “There’s plenty around.”

     “Not like Jack Otway,” my uncle reminded him. “He and his father, they know the area from way back. Including Dumont Island.”

     Sam stuck out his lip. “I’ve never been sure about Jack. He’s not liked all that much out here, nor with the younger mob out of Derby. The Ngerika New mob.”

     This seemed to come as something of a surprise to Uncle Len. “Is that so? After all he and his father have done for the local people?”

     “Times change. What he was saying was good back then. But maybe not so good now. The German thing. Then the trouble with his wife. If that’s what she was. Eh, Tidy?”

     Sam’s stocky companion shifted from one foot to the other. “Yeah. That’s about it.”

     Maggie had moved away from us, edging towards the door, but she was still close enough to have heard what was going on. “He’s a good man, that Jack Otway,” she called out. “You leave ’im be.”

     Sam flapped a dismissive hand at her. “No one asked you what you think, old woman. So you can leave us be.”

     She wasn’t done. “You ask Tracker Ningulai. He’s known them Otways all his life. Gone walkabout with them. He knows they helped us—and they’ll do it again.”

     Sam laughed at this. “Edward Otway’s in his grave, so he won’t be helping us. And looks like his son won’t be much help either. Unless Tracker knows where he is.”

     The speaker beckoned and a moment later we were all moving towards the door. “If Tracker knows something, he’d better tell us.” As we pushed through the plastic strips, Sam added a few words of explanation. “No one from the Old Ngerika mob tell me anything. They keep it to themselves.”

     “We sure do,” Maggie called after him. “Have to.”

     Out of the veranda, Tracker Ningulai, sitting in the heat in his ragged clothing, looked up as the group surrounded him, still holding his engraving knife. When he noticed the boab nut I had just bought, he nodded and tapped the work in progress between his knees with the point of his knife. “Like this one,” he said in a low husky voice. “Snakes and croc.” Rheumy-eyed, he continued to look me over from beneath his matted grey hair, but said nothing further.

     “Have you seen Jack Otway?” Sam demanded. “We can’t find him. We want to know where he is.”

     The aged black face squinting up at us was now utterly impassive. He sat there, quite still.’

(from Ngerika, Chapter 2)

 

‘ “Everything is political these days,” [said Jack]. “People don’t want to be troubled by inconvenient prehistory. They avert their gaze; they prefer sentimentality”… “that’s what we were taught in our salad days. Look at any data from all sides. Doubts and dissent should never be suppressed. Even a misguided view may contain some element of truth, and for that reason look carefully at all results and every theory. But things have changed. What people want to see now is what they call progress, meaning what suits their immediate needs. There’s not much room for those of us who have spent their lives dwelling upon the ambiguities of the past. People want to see the past put to use. It doesn’t mean anything unless it can be twisted this way or that to fit in with what is thought to be the future.” ’

(from Courthouse, Chapter 4)

  

‘Jack was scanning some sheets of paper, muttering to himself as he did so. “A letter to my father from Hans Erhardt,” he said eventually… “About their trip to the Montgomery Islands before the War. Rowing out to the channel with Tracker Ningulai while the tide withdrew. Leaving a new world in its wake.’

     Jack flapped a page at me, too quickly to be read. “A new world of reefs and islands, rising from the sea.” He checked the page and seized upon another passage. “I’ve never forgotten what Erhardt said—and I never will…We have seen the horizon bend. The same as my father said about that day.”…

     “That was the last we ever heard of Erhardt. He was very gloomy by then, of course. He and his fellow anthropologists from the Neurath Academy saw themselves as scientists. Their understanding of the communities they got to know was based on personal contact and careful observation. But all that began to change, according to Erhardt, immediately upon their return from the Kimberley. Anthropology became a platform for the party, not a scientific pursuit. Their funding was shaped by the ideology of their political masters. Back in Berlin, he said in his letter, we saw the horizon bend again—but this time in a way that terrified us.”

     Jack lowered the page. “Then the War came. They were closed down. Kicked out of Berlin. There were no more letters after that.”

     He returned Erhardt’s letter to his hideaway in the carton, went back to the table and made a cursory inspection of the other documents.

     …“It’s the same everywhere, I suppose, one thing follows another. A witness departs; another takes his place. Ideas come and go.” He jerked a thumb at the incinerator. “So best to clear up now. Sort things out. There was a time when speculation could take you wherever it led. Certainty was a long-term aim, but we embraced uncertainty. It was called research. But now, with a new century nearly upon us, it seems that what people think must be what all others think. No room for argument. No loose ends. Everything neat and tidy. So it’s time to start burning things.”

     He gathered up some more papers. “What we did in my time was more than mere technique, or what confirmed current thinking. It was based on practical knowledge and one’s own experience. Years in the field. A feeling for tradition. For custom. For ceremonies. For art. What artists do so often depends upon the meaning of life in a particular community. Were the figures on the rock panel put there to watch what is being done by their descendants in the present?...

(from Queries, Chapter 5)

 

‘Josie glided into my room bearing a jug of water and a glass on a small tray. “I thought you might like these,” she murmured. “And a torch—just in case.”

     She dug into the pocket of her jeans and pulled out a very small torch which she also placed on the table.

     I was stretched out on the bed, still dressed, listening to the local radio station while I checked the notes I had made in Jack’s museum room. Josie turned away and was about to leave when the host of the show began laughing heartily at one of his own asides, a quip in answer to a caller.

     “I know him,” she remarked.

     I glanced at the bedside radio. “The host or the caller?”

     ‘The host. But I know the caller too.”

     There was a chair by the cupboard so I invited her to sit down. “They seem to be going for each other,” I said…

     “They always are, those two.”

     I turned the radio down. It was coming back to me now that she had some link to the radio station. “You work there?”

     I was stirred by the possibilities of her presence. There was something so calm about her as she sat under the bright overhead light.

     “It’s a job. For the time being.”

     “So that’s how you know those two?”

     “And we were in Drinks and Dinosaurs together.”

     This was a reference to a home-grown musical performance that had been put on shortly before I arrived in Broome. It had a mixed cast and had been a huge success, sold out for the three nights of its run in the beer garden of the Continental. It was a farce, I gathered, satirising local habits and characters from all backgrounds, a kind of sequel to Bran Nue Day that had been such a hit a few years ago.

     “What were you playing?”

     She giggled. “A tourist trip operator.” She raised an imaginary mike to her lips. “Camel rides. A trip to see the crocs in the gorges. The Bungle Bungles—on the horizon and in the coach.” She lowered her mike. “All the usual claptrap.”

     “Pity I missed it.” I seemed to recall that an effigy of Captain Q had featured somewhere in the plot, a theatrical device not to his liking.

     “It was a good thing for me, that show,” she added. “It was seen by some people from the Performing Arts Academy in Perth. That’s where I’ll be going once this case is over.”

     “You’ve been offered a place?”

     She nodded. “The musical theatre course. It could lead anywhere.”…

We talked for a while longer about the films she liked and the actors she admired, and the more we talked the clearer it became that Broome and the Kimberley region would soon be taking a back seat in Josie Otway’s life. She was ready for a wider world and its many alluring opportunities.

     When she rose and made for the door, about to leave as quietly as she had come, I raised my empty glass to toast her departure. This made her smile.

     Her dreaming was not of her forefathers, I reflected. Josie had her own dreaming. It took me some time to get to sleep as I thought about all that had happened during the day and of what lay ahead for Josie and others like her.’

(from Queries, Chapter 5)

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