To celebrate our 75th birthday, we’re presenting exceptional works from Meanjin’s past that have defined and challenged Australian literary culture. Brian Vrepont was an Australian poet and one of Meanjin’s original contributors. This piece was published one month after the Bombing of Darwin, and was the first short story to be included in Meanjin.
This is the story of your death, and of your wife’s and kiddies’ deaths, of how you were all murdered on a summer morning in Darwin. I am still alive and therefore able to report the butchery. But I must hurry, for at any moment I also may be murdered, a mess slowly digested by maggots.
A month ago you were an engineer living in Darwin, and on a bright summer morning you woke, yawned and stretched, got up and bathed, pottered about the house, and sat down to the breakfast your wife had prepared. You listened to a Southern radio news session, and you agreed with your wife that you must get a move on with your back-yard bomb shelter. The Japs had occupied Malaya, they had a dangerous footing in New Guinea, were bombing and machine-gunning Java, and it seemed that only the Dutch were willing or able to put up a fight against the Japanese invaders. Death, violently sudden death, was in the air. You felt it leaving home that brilliant summer morning in Darwin, just one month ago. You felt death in the street as you walked to work. You saw death in the blue sky as you looked up at the half-dozen bombers tearing the sky to pieces with their roar. You had a sudden strange thought, as they passed overhead, that they were sharks of the air, and you shuddered and turned, and looked back to your home, and went to work with dread.
You worked to midday, consciously absorbed in your job, but at the back of your mind thinking, feeling, thinking, feeling, thinking thinking feeling feeling—about war and bombs and sudden death. About Fascism, Communlsm, lying propaganda against Britain, Russia and why won’t Whitehall accept China’s fighting offer. About after war and when. About famine and endemic disease unemployment civil wars revolutions and a world of neurotics. About home, wife kiddies garden trench, home wife kiddies home wife kiddies garden trench garden trench. About Churchill Dunkirk Norway Greece Crete Malaya, English Tories Jew millionaires Munich Armament Firms, Banks. About Australia’s soldier army serving England, airmen kept in England, save England say the Tories not a gun bullet bomb bomber fighter battleship sub- marine cruiser for Australia Java China. Australia may be bombed possibly invaded women raped killed kiddies babies old people shot stabbed machine-gunned. England mother Country. Australia, Darwin, home wife kiddies home wife kiddies. About politics politicians Labour Curtin Menzies Smith vested interests Broken Hill Colonial Sugar Directorships Radio Newspapers Army supplies, beer tobacco Union bosses Christ churches honesty racketeering, love hate greed symptomatic drunkenness music poetry oysters crab papaws mangoes. Take home some bananas, home wife kiddies, doll, chocolate, wife home kiddies home wife kiddies. About life death love in the long yellow grass, kisses, electric magnetic flesh, tongues, wind floated brown hair marriage, home wife kiddies, work, shopping, saving for old age holidays fishing cold beer, swimming, letters from friends brothers sisters Brisbane, wife’s five gramophone records, classics, damn radio bull roaring, leisure, peace, listen relax smoke read help kiddies home lessons baths kisses goodnight darlings smiles pyjamas teeth cleaning bedroom pyjamas, delicate nightie, lie in bed watching back of wife’s head, mirrored face shaded light pink glow, white hands finger-tipping cream into skin, peace, quiet, no hell racket but under mosquito net dark soft love goodnight sleep and dream. Picture thoughts, thought-images racing trembling spinning coming going crossing weaving shuttling darting to and fro back in out out in from your life-hub your world your universe, home wife kiddies home wife kiddies home—
You had no time to finish the image—blinding noise sky falling earth convulsing your brain clock stopped and you were dead. The bombers bulleted on. Meaningless to you dead wife kiddies blasted into nothingness seconds after you.
Such war death is obscenely meaningless.
Meanjin Volume 1 Issue 8 1942
The full Meanjin archive can be accessed at www.informit.com.au/meanjinbackfiles