Sunday, 7 October 2007

A DEAD LIBERTY by Dave Wellings

(The September assignment was to write a legend.)

Most successful entrepreneurs have a sense of opportunism that borders on cheek. In the late 1860s the construction of a railway line between Toowoomba and Warwick offered numerous opportunities. In addition to the vital transport for a growing sheep industry, the line brought with it a large work force which had to be catered for. Hastily built stores and unlicensed bars were established at every halt along the line. When the line reached the Clifton sheep station, an Irishman, James Mowen, built a slab hut from which he sold provisions and liquor to the railway “navvies”.
Seeing an opportunity in the expanding settlement, he decided to invest in Clifton. In 1869 he applied for and was granted a liquor licence and he built a hotel next to his store. A small plaque (appropriately across the road from O’Shanley’s Irish Bar) still marks the site of his original ‘Redbank Hotel’.

In response to increasing demand by migrants from overseas and the southern States, the government released parcels of Crown land across the Darling Downs and Mowen was quick to purchase a block in what is now the main street. He built the Clifton Arms Hotel and four other business premises, all of which he rented out. Such enterprise marked him out as an obvious person to approach when funds were required to build a Catholic church. He was appointed as joint-treasurer of the fund-raising committee and donated an acre of prime town land to the project. A small church was subsequently built near to the site of the present Catholic church.

He was a wealthy man when he died on 20th April 1897, at the time 600 pounds was a considerable sum of money and there were no heirs to inherit it. He had stipulated in his will that the money should be spent on a “grand monument” to be built over his grave. The executor of his will, John Logan, was an old friend and coincidentally a prime mover in fund-raising to build a new, larger church. The prospering Clifton township had long overgrown the original small church and John Logan was not slow to see the serendipity of his situation.

“When considering what form the memorial should take, it occurred to me that nothing would be more appropriate than a memorial church…”

Special dispensation was granted to have Mowen’s body exhumed from the Clifton cemetery and reburied at Meara Place and the present church was built over his grave – a grand monument, as he’d requested.

His name is immortalised in Mowen Street at the southern end of the main street which he had largely established – and in a more subtle way in the name of the church itself. James Mowen and John Logan may have fallen some way short of sainthood but when the fine new building was commissioned as the “Church of Saint James and Saint John” it was in recognition of their contribution.

It was a final touch of opportunism bordering on cheek and Mowen would have surely approved.

Dave Wellings ©

FORGET-ME-NOTS by Dave Wellings

(August's assignment was set by Gloria who selected an opening sentence onto which we must add our own 500 or so words to create a work of either fiction or non-fiction. The opening sentence reads:
"The lot of us met on Saturday afternoon as arranged.")

The lot of us met on Saturday afternoon as arranged. The regulars, the ones who cared enough to bring a bunch of flowers.

“Nothing flashy,” The Colonel had insisted, “We don’t want to attract the wrong kind of attention.” In The Colonel’s mind there was more stigma attached to flashiness than to sexually-transmitted disease, He wasn’t actually a colonel: he’d been pensioned off from the army with the rank of captain but he did little to discourage the use of his nickname.

Jason’s bouquet was what The Colonel probably had in mind – large showy red tulips which clashed with his maroon and gold scarf. It was windy up on the hillside overlooking the town but a football scarf and beanie looked out of place at a graveside. Jason was on his way to a match and was too young and gauche to consider such things.

Norman wore a beige cardigan under his navy blazer and he raised his brown trilby hat in respect as he placed his tasteful violas on the grave.

“It was her greatest fear, that she would be forgotten, that her life had meant nothing more than a few moments of gratification to those of us in need.”

“It was more than that,” said Graham who, like most of us, was on the wrong side of middle-age. “It was a useful life; she was a caring woman, a compassionate woman.”

“And a good listener,” added Ted who had missed having anyone to listen to him since his wife had died five years earlier.

Jason looked up, puzzled perhaps at the revelation. “I never…Some of us…It’s not always…I never know what to say to girls. She gave me my first – experience.”

We all nodded; we had our own reasons for knowing her and out reasons for regretting her passing, quite suddenly, a brain tumour, twelve months to the day.

With his need for military order, The Colonel arranged the flowers, tall tulips at the rear and the others in descending order of size to form one poignant tribute. The he stepped back, stood briefly to attention and spoke for us all: “Gone – but not forgotten.”

Dave Wellings ©