Tom R.I.P/ (Amongst the bleached bones of the Inebriates at Orange .NSW)

(A story; some fiction, some not. Tom and his mother are still everywhere.)

Tom, who was black and a returned soldier from the Korean War, used to live with his mother in Orange. He never did get into a decent working live and his request for a land grant was knocked back, as were all other requests from aboriginals in those post Korean War days. Tom could not even get a beer in a pub at that time. He fought as good if not better than most in Korea. He was fearless and when shot in the leg he hobbled on regardless for the next couple of days. Someone finally got him into a hospital. It left him with a gammy leg, a permanent limp.

When he applied for the soldier land grant he was told by the clerk,” bugger off,” “not for you Abos, mate.” Some of his white mates were given the VC’s for less fighting than some of those black ones. Even though Tom could not get into the pub, he managed to get into the grog quite well. He could never figure out the one about the land grant refusal, somehow always thought he was part of the land before white men. It did not make much sense, but then again, so much did not make sense. Black fellas got killed in the war more than Australians, yet they were never rewarded for bravery. They weren’t even citizens. That’s why Tom also did not get a pension. He could never understand the problem, no matter how often he asked himself or others.

His mum kept telling him “keep your nose clean, stay away from grog.” He only kept the first part but loved those brooding dark long- necks. Over time they rewarded him more than anything, even though it was of short duration. Each bottle set up the need for the next one. Tom drifted off to Sydney, camping along Salt Pan Creek at Herne Bay. He used to do short spurts of work, became an itinerant rabbito. In the evening he joined his mob on the creek, stewed up the left- over rabbits with pumpkins. The grog was also part of his mob. Many were returned soldiers but never shared in the spirit of Anzac, not a single medal. There was just this wrong kind of spirit; better than nothing at times.

Tom just idled along but somehow never got the thing about the returned soldier’s Land Grant out of his head. He would have liked to have been able to raise horses on the couple of hundred acres that so many white soldiers got after the return from Korea. Not being a citizen was a puzzle that never got solved, especially not when his days became more and more endured in an alcoholic daze. He used to pinch his arm, “yes, I am a person and am alive”, “how come I am not a citizen.” “What’s a citizen?” Apparently, anyone but a black fella.

He went back to Orange and lived with his mother who put up with his now deeply entrenched need for grog. He would be charged over and over again with drunken behaviour, disorderly behaviour, pissing up against the rosemary at the Town’s returned soldier’s memorial with the bronze inscribed names of so many brave but white souls. White souls, the lot of them, and all dead but still regarded true citizens. All their wives and mothers were receiving pensions.

Tom’s mother was just scraping by with the help of uncles and aunties and assorted relatives, all without pensions. “We are from the Wiradjuri people; we lived here well before any white man.” “Your grandmother use to grow seeds around here and we were the first gardeners,” she told Tom.

The coppers got fed up with Tom. It was too much. The Order was read out by the Magistrate; “Pursuant to Section of the Act, I am satisfied that Tom is an Inebriate within the meaning of the 1912 Act and hereby Order the Inebriate to be placed in a licensed institute for the remainder of his life”, or, till he is deemed cured. The chief constable with a grin on his face led Tom downstairs to his fate. Tom mused on the stairs down; am I now a citizen?

Tom was taken to the inebriate section of the mental hospital in Orange where he spent the rest of his life. He wasn’t even told of his mother’s death. In 1968 he finally became an Australian citizen and had his pension regularly paid out to the Institute. Tom did not get better nor did he ever find out why he was not a citizen before 1968. Over thirty percent of the inmates were aboriginals. Tom died in 1974.

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