Telling the Bees – Chapter 11
Mary Huynh was dismayed.
‘I’m so sorry, Millie. I don’t understand it,’ said the vigorous little Vietnamese woman, maybe no younger than Amélie herself. ‘There was a lot of early material about the Homestead, I remember distinctly. Correspondence, the diaries of Harold Grant, the builder and first owner. Plans, sketches, photographs – and they should all be in here.’
They peered into the near-empty archive box, as if the promised documents might reappear.
The high-ceilinged, timber-panelled room, once the courtroom of the old courthouse, now home to the Jim’s Gully Historical Collection, smelled of wax polish and ancient paper. Motes of dust drifted in shafts of sunlight, tinged sepia by milky leadlights; the noise of traffic came muted through the thick walls, as if time-travelling from a later, busier era.
‘… unless they’re on loan to another institution or a private scholar, but that should be recorded in the catalogue and there should be a docket in the archive. I’ll take another look on the computer. Just in case.’
Some minutes later, she conceded defeat.
‘Well, this is odd. The catalogue only has the items that are in the archive now. Maybe the others were transferred when we had the big clear-out after the flood, and someone didn’t update the records properly. We’re volunteers, you know, and not everyone here is a trained archivist …’
This stage whisper may have been directed at the assistant curator, Bradley, a large and shambling man with grey whiskers, who at the moment of speaking was teetering on an undersized stepladder, hanging a photograph of some long-deceased local dignitary above the judge’s bench.
‘What is it exactly that you’re trying to find, Millie?’
‘I don’t know. I just want to look through what’s available on the early years of the Homestead, to see if something leaps out at me.’
‘What are you expecting to “leap out”?’
Amélie shrugged and Mary was mercifully tactful.
Together they developed a strategy.
‘For the lives of individuals, there are the usual genealogical sources: Ancestry et cetera. It would be worth seeing what you can find out about Harold Grant and his son Peter particularly. Harold was a wealthy squatter, so there ought to be a lot online about him. Peter was a colourful character as I recall. Quite a rogue …’
Amélie felt daunted at the prospect of all this research. How much time was it going to take?
‘… On the other hand, if I were looking for local events that weren’t tied to a particular individual, I’d go straight to the newspaper archives. Murders, disappearances, unexplained deaths, assaults, robberies … anything newsworthy or salacious should be there. There’s the Age from 1854 onwards, the Argus from 1848, the Herald from 1861, but there are also local papers, and a bunch of early Melbourne journals that didn’t survive the Gold Rush era. Oh, and let’s not forget religious periodicals …’
‘There’s so much, Mary! And I only have a … a limited amount of time.’
Mary’s dark, mobile features stiffened. She seemed about to retort that her time wasn’t unlimited either, but something in Amélie’s voice or expression softened her response and forestalled further questions.
‘I’ll draw up a prioritised list. Give me an hour.’
The next day, Amélie forewent her morning walk. She sat at the kitchen table, opened her laptop, started to work her way down Mary’s list.
By the time Tom came in for his mid-morning coffee break, two hours later, she had found what she was looking for.
Wednesday, 7 August, 1861
Murder of a youth
On Friday, timber cutters working in the forest above Jim’s Gully found the unclothed body of a male youth. The inquest was held at Brushy Creek by Dr. Hamilton, where Sgt. Acton disclosed that he had been unable to ascertain who had killed the deceased, or any other facts connecting the deceased with other persons. Mr. Benjamin Martin, surgeon, deposed that the deceased was a male of approximately 15 years of age. Cuts and abrasions on the limbs and torso of the deceased suggested a pursuit through thick underbrush such as surrounded the site where the body was discovered. The cause of death was found to be exsanguination through a penetrating neck wound severing the left common carotid artery and jugular veins. The victim when found had been dead for several days and the body had been disturbed by wild animals. The jury returned a verdict to the effect that the deceased male had been wilfully and maliciously murdered by a person or persons unknown. Police have thus far been unable to establish the identity of the victim.
Next week in Telling the Bees:
Chapter 12: Boundaries
Amélie and Tom learn that the friendliness of their new neighbours has limits.
Acknowledgement of Country: The Woiwurrung people of the Kulin alliance are the Traditional Owners of the land on which this story is set. I pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.
Disclaimer: The people and events described in this story are entirely the product of the author’s imagination; they bear no intentional resemblance to real-life people and events. The locations are based on real places.