About the Author
Francis Boggs, now retired, was born in New Zealand
and has spent most of his life in Australia. This is his second published work.
He currently lives on the Gold Coast in Australia with his wife Cavell and
declares it to be the lifestyle capital of the world.
To my family
A bygone era
Aspiring authors, in my own personal opinion and
observation, are generally earnest, creative, anxious and sincere personalities
who feel that they have a story to tell, whether it’s fiction, fact, comedy,
horror or any genre.
Storytellers of the far distant past would, of
course, rely on personal experience and imagination, and these stories without
written word would be handed down to further generations who would then perhaps
translate them and record them into their newly created understandable and
In my quest to continue to contribute to the
storytellers of the past and present I do hope that readers of my previously
published philosophical fiction novel Paradise Mislaid enjoyed it.
On embarking upon this series of short stories I can
assure you that all of them contain an element of truth and personal experience.
Anyone recognising situations or characters portrayed
will kindly regard them as fictional, coincidental, and sheer imagination.
Read a sample:
THE VOLUNTEER FIRE BRIGADE
Brightwater was a small town by most standards of
measurement in the late 1930s and early 40s. It had its obligatory two churches,
Catholic and Presbyterian, and Catholic and State schools. One hotel with
patrons from both churches. One butcher shop, a town hall which doubled as a
movie theatre. A service station, garage, blacksmith, stock-and-station
supplies. During the war most cars were up on blocks because of the price of
tyres and rationing of petrol; in fact, most things were subject to ration
coupons. There was a drapery/clothing/haberdashery shop, a grocery shop, bank,
council chambers, a bike shop, fish-and-chip shop. The post office and police
station combined as one and both closed at the end of the day at 5pm. The one
doctor and chemist shop also combined as one and the whole town made up a
stretch of approximately 500 yards, with empty blocks here and there occupied by
either a house cow or a market garden, dignified by the name of Main Street. The
town’s existence apparently originally occurred by the mistaken understanding
that the Southern railway track was to be laid close to the Brightwater river
and a settlement to service the outlying farming community should be
Whether by geographical problems, political
expedience, or some other unknown revealed reason, the railway track continued
approximately 20 miles south, bypassing Brightwater completely, and a
substantial town was established there which had now over 70 years grown to over
10,000 people. If anything substantial was to be accomplished, then people went
to ‘town’, which had a hospital, college, and most facilities that one might
expect from a town of that size. It revelled in the name of Dunton, which
appeared upon almost every building, edifice, park, shop, post office, railway
station, council offices, police station etc. so there was no mistaking where
you were. The people from Brightwater simply referred to its location as
Brightwater in itself was a misnomer if it was named
after the small river that ran by the town as it was perpetually a dirty brown
colour, but nevertheless it did not discourage the young ones from discovering a
new swimming hole after every flood that seemed to change the character of the
The character of the town itself of course could be
best described by the characters that lived there, for there is similarity in
most small towns that you may be familiar with.
They can be recognised without providing specific
names, as for example, Mrs Busybody, who claimed knowledge of every body’s
business and was always anxious to share it, be it true or false. It helped that
she was on what was known as a telephone party line where several people shared
the same line and were identified by a different ring tone and anyone on that
party line who cared to pick up the receiver could listen to a private
conversation. A local radio comedian once told a joke that when applying for a
job and asked if he had done any public speaking, he replied, ‘Yes, I was once
on a party line.’
There was the town drunk, who seemed to revel in the
title by reinforcing his claim on a daily basis.
The village idiot, who was harmless and unaware that
he was the butt of countless jokes. He was in his early twenties with the mind
of an innocent five year old and could usually be found at the local garage as
he loved the atmosphere and would constantly take a broom to sweep the garage,
footpath and street, dodging traffic where necessary and picking up horse
droppings as and when they descended.
There were three prominent men of Irish descent in
town, as there were in most of Australia, either of convict ancestry or early
settlers who settled on allotments. Paddy Quinn was the publican of the only
hotel, aptly named the Central Hotel, probably the first building in town, built
as a hotel and staging point for horse-drawn pioneer carriages. He was regarded
as a good bloke and probably a bit of a soft touch for those wanting some
There was Sergeant McRae, the local policeman, who
seemed to turn a blind eye to the majority of minor misdemeanours and was
happily hanging out for his retirement; according to his reports, Brightwater
was a pretty crime-free town.
Not forgetting Father O’Toole, the Catholic priest,
who had presided over the town for as long as anyone could remember and despite
his advanced age, remained the sole representative for the parish along with the
four nuns from the Josephites who wore full traditional habit, starched headgear
and heavy leather belt from which hung large wooden rosary beads and a crucifix.
They taught us young Catholics the basics of education and religion before we
eventually embarked on our daily journey to ‘Dunnyton’ by bus to college.
Brightwater’s polyglot of characters were usually
labelled as snobs, battlers, good blokes, bad bastard, nice family, abos, wogs
One main feature of the town was the fire station.
Boldly emblazoned across the two-storey building, a sign proudly announced that
this indeed was the Brightwater Volunteer Fire Brigade. Once a month, volunteers
would attend a ‘practice’ meeting and roll out the hoses and polish up the
ancient Dennis fire engine that was kept in immaculate condition downstairs. It
had seen no active service that anyone could remember except for being paraded
on Anzac Day, Australia Day festivities, school fetes, and the Christmas Day
parade down Main Street with Father Christmas throwing sweets to the children.
The siren would also get a test run on practice
nights that could be heard all over town and beyond. The understood message was
just one screaming wail for practice or maintenance and three if there was a
genuine fire. This was understood by everyone except the local dogs who
immediately set up a chorus of competitive howling.
The volunteers would repolish their brass helmets and
coat buttons and then check the small axe whose head was ensconced in a pouch on
the wide black leather belt worn around their three-quarter-length black coat.
Matching black trousers and black leather boots that came halfway up their lower
legs completed an imposing regalia to compliment the fire truck’s outings.
There was a billiard table upstairs that had seen
better days and sometimes the ‘practice’ meetings ran a little late with a few
beers and a few games of snooker and a frosty greeting on arrival home, hardly
befitting the town’s protectors and heroes.
It was a quiet, late Wednesday morning in
Brightwater. A local racehorse trainer and his assistant were walking their
hopefully future racing champions through town on their usual morning roadwork
exercise. Shopkeepers were sweeping the footpaths outside their doors, cleaning
windows and greeting any passers-by, which were few in number, when a great
billow of black smoke appeared, coming from Paddy Quinn’s Central Hotel.
Bert Wilson, the local butcher and elected fire chief
(probably because his shop was located right next to the fire station) spotted
the smoke and with the excited cries of his customers behind him, left the shop
to his assistant and ran next door to sound the alarm for a genuine fire, then
began changing rapidly into his brigade uniform. Jack Miles, the local plumber,
was the first to arrive as he was parked right outside. He ran in smiling, and
told Bert he was rearing to go. He had to shout above the sound of the siren and
kitted up while the siren continued wailing. The dogs in town were having a
heart attack and the local curious spectators were hurrying to the source of the
Then came Bluey Dixon, the local postmaster, a
florid-faced, red-haired man of about forty, with his sixteen-year-old son Sam,
also with a mass of red hair, whom everyone called Little Bluey. Sam was the
local telegram/messenger boy. A little bit slow in the head, some people said,
but to be honest he was just dreadfully shy, introverted with a low self-esteem,
but considered he had found himself when he joined up as a keen volunteer.
They were all struggling into their uniforms when two
council workers from the Town Clerk’s office walked in quickly, in spite of the
council supervisor not wanting to let them go.
‘All right!’ shouted Bert. ‘Get kitted up quickly,
this is not a practice. Who’s got the keys for the fire engine? They’re not
where they’re supposed to be on the hook marked Dennis.’
Young Sam stuttered that Ian Smith, the local painter
and paperhanger, had them but was on holiday in New Zealand.
‘Christ almighty,’ cried Bert. ‘OK. It’s only at the
hotel down the road so let’s go!’
In various stages of getting dressed the team hobbled
off in single file with young Sam bringing up the rear, having trouble with one
boot to fit properly. His axe had fallen out of its pouch and his helmet had
fallen off. Getting it all back together was difficult as he also tried to
respond to the shouts of encouragement from the sidewalk locals.
The truth of the matter was that the hotel cook,
Billy Hing, of some distant Chinese heritage, had burnt the chips, which for an
ex shearer’s cook was unforgiveable. The resultant fire had burnt the curtains
around the window and part of the crockery cabinet above the stove before he was
able to put it all out. He had made himself a cup of tea and was walking out of
the kitchen when Bert and his gung-ho band of fire-fighters burst into the
crisis centre to save the day. He shouted at the two council workers to get
Billy to safety. ‘We don’t want any casualties,’ he cried. Billy walked across
to the other side of the road and sat down on the gutter to enjoy a cigarette
and his cup of tea while watching the drama unfold.
As the fire chief and self-designated leader, Bert
took off his helmet that he regarded as an impediment, took out his axe and
immediately began smashing the window to pieces. ‘Remember the practice,’ he
shouted. ‘We have to get rid of any smoke so that we can see the source of the
fire and we can breathe.’
A large piece of falling glass cut a nasty gash on
Bert’s forehead. Most of the smoke by now had of course disappeared.
‘Quick!’ he said. ‘The walls, the fire can hide
behind there and start up any time now.’
They all followed his example and attacked the old
tongue and groove walls which had probably been there for close to 100 years.
There were no latent flames lurking there but a myriad of cockroaches, upset at
having their daylight rest disturbed, scattered throughout the kitchen like a
plague desperately looking for new hiding places. Young Sam, valiantly trying to
follow the other volunteers’ actions, deftly cut the copper water pipe right
through, which resulted in a fountain of water spraying everywhere, quickly
creating a mini flood on the floor. Sam stepped on some debris on the floor,
collapsed and came up dripping wet with a nasty cut on his hand from some broken
glass. Tony, the village idiot, put his head through the smashed window, very
excited and asked if he could help. Bert bluntly told him to fuck off as he
demolished the crockery cabinet from the wall above the stove with one mighty
swipe, so Tony went about sweeping broken glass from the footpath with a broad
vacant happy smile on his face.
Just about then, Paddy Quinn came running into the
kitchen and pulled up short at the sight of the shambles of what had once been
his kitchen. ‘Christ, Bert,’ he cried, ‘you and the boys are bloody heroes. You
have saved the hotel. I was down in the cellar and didn’t know what was going on
until just now. It seems OK now so c’mon into the bar and the drinks are on me.’
Jack Miles, the plumber, had the water turned off and
said that he would have it fixed and all put back on after a couple of drinks.
Billy Hing had finished his tea and cigarette and
with a wry smile walked across the road to see if it was possible to re-start
business as usual but quickly determined that the kitchen would be closed for a
while. He never continued duties at the hotel and resumed his culinary career as
a shearers’ cook.
Bill Holmes, a retired civil servant from
the city, who had inherited his parents’ family home in Brightwater, was also
the editor and publisher of the Brightwater Weekly News. A four-page
edition featuring some advertising, births, deaths, engagements, marriages,
council notices and any local event worthy of mention. The paper was proudly
called the Brightwater Weekly News but most people referred to it as ‘the
one minute’s silence’. Mrs Busybody would have already passed on any news of
even moderate interest anyway.
The Brightwater Weekly News proudly wrote up
the event of the fire as follows with the headline:
A NEAR DISASTER IN BRIGHTWATER
AVERTED BY THE COURAGEOUS LOCAL VOLUNTEER FIRE BRIGADE
Following a fire alarm alert, six volunteers attended
a fire at the Central Hotel. After extracting patrons and staff and preventing
possible loss of life, they physically attacked the source despite lack of
availability of their fire truck and water carrier due to mechanical
difficulties. There is no doubt they saved the hotel from possible total loss
and prevented the fire from spreading to other parts of town.
Bert Wilson and Sam Dixon suffered some minor
injuries and it should be noted that all volunteers will be recognised at a
specially convened Council meeting next month.
The article was accompanied by a photograph of the
heroes taken standing (some just) against the bar of the hotel. Bert had a
bandage around his head and Sam had a bandage on his hand and a large stain of
vomit on his coat due to his unfamiliar exposure to alcohol. They had all put
their helmets back on for the occasion and with buttons undone, covered in soot
and asked not to smile, it was a wonderful memorial photo and a larger copy
along with the article still graces the wall of the public bar of the hotel and
the wall of the billiard room upstairs at the fire station.