HUMPHRIES sits at a table. He wears a dark suit and cloak, bow tie, a monocle, and large black hat. He is engrossed in a book. RHUBARB enters as a waitress.
RHUB: Good morning, Mr Humphries.
He remains buried in the book.
I said good morning, Mr Humphries.
HUMPH: (looking up) Sorry.
RHUB: Watcha glued to?
HUMPH: (expansively) A book on the great Conder.
RHUB: La Gioconda?
HUMPH: (smiling) Conder.
RHUB: Ah, them vultures.
HUMPH: Charles Conder.
RHUB: Why didn’t you say so. You should learn to articulate.
HUMPH: You should rid your ears of wax.
RHUB: Don’t get waxy with me.
She slaps him on the back and cackles.
HUMPH: (wincing) A rib-splitter. (peering at her) Think I’ll take out a patent on it.
RHUB: Yeh. He was a member of the Heidelberg School. Along with Tom Roberts and Freddie McCubbin.
She sits as if at home.
(wistfully) The Australian Impressionists.
HUMPH: (offering) Cigar?
HUMPH: What on earth do you mean?
RHUB: (hauling up her skirt) Bloomsbury wit.
HUMPH: (ogling) I would’ve hoped it a little more antipodean.
RHUB: Listen, Professor, I know he painted on cigar box lids.
HUMPH: I wish he were around to paint you on a coffin lid.
RHUB: He painted my great-grandmother.
RHUB: She seduced him.
RHUB: By the Northcote tip.
HUMPH: Where is it now?
RHUB: The Northcote tip?
HUMPH: The painting.
RHUB: (stretching) Above my bed.
HUMPH: Do you have any other Conder?
RHUB: Four. Unknown erotics.
HUMPH: You tease.
RHUB: I speak the truth. Ask Sir Kenneth Clark. Full frontals. My great-grandmother would have made Sophia Loren look like Twiggy.
HUMPH: I’d love to have a look at them.
RHUB: That’s what all the blokes say.
HUMPH: You’d never part with them?
RHUB: Not on your life. They is much too beautiful. Full of chiaroscuro. A rare phenomenon in Conder. She introduced him to Rembrandt.
HUMPH: (agape) Do you have any Rembrandts?
RHUB: She did. Flogged it to Augustus John.
RHUB: He and Charlie was mates. Between the two of them they lifted more skirts than the Fremantle Doctor.
Pause. She lowers her skirt.
HUMPH: Where do you live?
RHUB: In a municipal incinerator.
HUMPH: (distraught) Not a Walter Burley Griffin!
RHUB: (proudly) You said it. Very cosy in winter, Barry. I picked it up for a song in the philistine Fifties.
I’m leaving everything to the garbos’ union.
HUMPH: (blackly) Say that again.
RHUB: Except for a few early Nolans and Boyds. (throwing out her chest) Nudes. Before they got puddin heads. Donating them to the ACTU.
She puts a finger to her lips.
He composes himself.
She takes out a pad and pen.
HUMPH: Mineral water. Perrier.
RHUB: (loudly, to herself) One bottle of Hepburn Springs.
HUMPH: One egg. Coddled.
RHUB: One egg. Fried.
HUMPH: A rack of toast.
RHUB: Bread fried in dripping.
HUMPH: Coffee. Brazil.
RHUB: Instant. One mug.
HUMPH: That will be all, thank you.
RHUB: Do you mind plonking down your monaker here? For me youngest daughter.
HUMPH: As long as she makes Sophia Loren look like Twiggy.
RHUB: (close to HUMPH.) She certainly does.
HUMPH: (signing with a flourish) What a family.
RHUB: Thank you, Mr Humphries.
She waddles out.
HUMPHRIES stands and stares after her. He takes a wig sitting in a bowl of flowers on the table and dons it, setting the hat in front of the chair he occupied. He props the book in front of the hat. He turns his cloak into a skirt and uses a table napkin as a pinafore: he becomes RHUBARB.
HUMPH: (to the hat) Good morning, sir. (pause) Watcha glued to? A book on painting? Very handy. My abode could do with a lick of paint. Fine arts, you say? Conder? Never heard of him. Though I am cognizant with Pro Hart and Namatjira. All those scrumptious lilacs and purples. Wonderful visual gift the blacks. For pagans. Such a tragedy. All that trachoma. Though when it comes to ocular anomalies I never get too sentimental. What would have happened if some quack had slapped a set of goggles on El Gecko?
Loud recorded laughter.
Actually, I do a spot of painting meself with some of the girls. We call ourselves the Lamington School.
Loud recorded laughter.
We take a few pounds of Club chocolate. Melt it in a saucepan. Slap it into the heated canister of a spray gun then squirt it all over a large sheet of masonite or fibro. Then we take handfuls of shredded coconut and fling it at the chocolate. In the style of Jackson Polack.
Professor John Halfpenny of the Monash Art Department described our work as the epitome of working class art.
He has one hanging in his kitchen. He calls it Prole Poles.
HUMPHRIES screams laughing. Loud recorded laughter.
It’s good to have a laugh. Improves the appetite no end. Now what’ll it be, ducks? I’d suggest lambs fry and bacon, half a kilo of rump steak, three eggs and a couple of snags, all topped off with a filigree of Rosella tomato sauce.
He picks up a plastic sauce container and squirts it everywhere.
Jackson Polack again!
He screams laughing.
Jack Hibberd was born in 1940 at Warracknabeal among the wheat plains of North-Western Victoria. He has written some 40 plays, three novels and three volumes of poetry: Le Vin Des Amants: Poems of Baudelaire, The Genius of Human Imperfection and Madrigals for a Misanthrope.
Image credit: 7 Years Later