Excited meetings in Sydney, and a run on the banks.
Before the deputation had left the Premier’s room Sydney was ablaze with the news that the Japanese might be expected to make a descent upon the coast at any moment.
There were excited groups of people on all the street corners, and every hotel bar was a parliament in itself.
The news seemed to make the men very thirsty, and perhaps it was as well, for the more they quenched their thirst the more clearly they saw the way out of the difficulty.
Outside, however, the position was different; in some quarters, at any rate.
The Stock Exchange, the Royal Exchange, the Bankers’ Institute, and the Chambers of Commerce all held hurried meetings of their members, called together by telephone.
This was the result of a suggestion made by the first paper that was out with an emergency edition.
The suggestion was that this preliminary meeting should be convened, and that mass meetings should be held in different parts of the city in the evening, at which representatives from the meetings of the afternoon would advise the people what to do as a result of the earlier deliberations.
The evening papers made the most of the occasion.
For all they knew it might be their last issue.
A full report of the deputation, heralded by “scare” heads, had the place of honour. It was flanked by telegrams from Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, and Perth, telling what was being done there.
As a matter of fact, the telegrams simply told of panic, for the people could do nothing that would be effective. And they realised it.
A number of lighthouses reported the appearance of suspicious-looking vessels, but nothing more was heard of them. The reports, however, served to increase the excitement.
* * *
The largest meeting of the evening was held in Martin Place, near the General Post Office. The speakers, endeavouring to talk with a coolness they did not feel, all advised the people to quietly submit.
“But what about our property?” yelled a well-known Pitt-street merchant in the soft goods line. “Won’t they confiscate that?”
It was explained that that was unlikely. The new rulers would probably be content with taxing property — perhaps to the limit of its profit.
“But that would be confiscation, practically,” shouted a man who had been a Socialist for years, and was also known as more or less anti-British. He had lately acquired some property.
“That’s for them to say,” remarked the President of the Bankers’ Institute, quietly. “Anyhow, you can do nothing. Australia’s only hope of preservation from an enemy rested on the British Navy. That Navy, thanks to you and others like you, was not built up to the required strength, and consequently was smashed by the Japanese. We have now to face the facts as they are.”
“The boasted British Navy, that all the jingoes used to sing about, and go mad about, knocked out by the little Brown men who had only just learned the game! ‘Boys of the bulldog breed,’ indeed! A lot of beer-chewing wasters who funked a fight!”
This from the previous interjector.
A quiet-looking man, dressed all in black, was standing close beside the speaker. I recognised him as a clergyman associated with the Royal Naval Home, Sydney. I saw his teeth clench and his lace whiten with suppressed passion, but his voice was quiet enough as he said:
“My dear sir, a critic of bravery should himself be brave. I know the men of the British Navy well, and I tell you that never in all my experience of the Navy did I come across a blatant cur like you! You attack men who are dead; now attack one who is living, if you have any of the elements of manhood in you!”
The parson flung off his coat and smacked the socialist on the side of the face with his open hand.
The latter raised one fist, but his eyes were caught by the burning ones of the clergyman. He looked for the fraction of a second, then dropped his hand and slunk away.
“Stranger,” said a long, lean man, holding his hand out to the clergyman, “shake! Guess I knew the British Navy a bit. I was an officer on a United States’ battleship myself till I figured out that I could do better in trade.”
He “shook” vigorously, then continued:
“An’ if there’s another of these durned skunks whose dirty livers prompt ’em to malign dead men — dead ‘White’ men — about, it will give me much pleasure to readjust his features for him.”
The American looked with much meaning at a friend of the retired interjector, and who had been talking to him. Though he usually courted publicity, he did not relish the attention he was now attracting. However, he said never a word. But the crowd in the immediate vicinity gave him a tongue-lashing that relieved their feelings and entirely crushed him.
I must say I enjoyed it.
“But for you,” said an elderly and well-known man — and his remark was violently endorsed — “and your anti-Britishism that ought to have landed you up against a tree with a rope round your bally neck, we wouldn’t be in this hole now.”
“What were you ?” he shouted, “before you crawled into the House, the servile slave of an unrepresentative body. What were you?”
The crowd groaned and boo-hooed.
“And it was you and your kind,” he went on, “that decided against Australia paying a fair proportion of the expense of maintaining the Imperial Navy — our only real defence in time of crisis, as any fool ought to have known — at an invincible standard. Invincible, do you hear? And a blind people entrusted the destinies of the Empire to such as you!”
The crowd yelled, and the Member beat a retreat.
The old man was, of course, beyond himself with excitement, and talked wildly, but it was evident that he voiced the sentiments of the majority.
Speaker after speaker, addressing the meeting, advised the people to quietly submit, and it was announced that the original plan of issuing arms and ammunition from the Town Hall had been abandoned.
“It was a panic idea,” said a Minister of the Crown, “but a natural one. The Government, however, subsequently decided to call in all arms and ammunition instead of issuing any more, as any demonstration with firearms on our side might result in the city being laid waste, and a number of our people killed.”
The crowd was silent for a moment. No one could question the wisdom of the arrangement. Presently a voice said:
“What about our women, Mr. Suttor (a member of the Government, who had been speaking), when the Japs land?”
Everyone seemed to hold his breath while he waited for the answer.
“I think,” said Mr. Suttor, “there need be no fear on that head. The Japanese are not Cossacks or Bashibazouks, and I believe they will respect the lives, honor, and property of our people. The men are well under control of their officers.”
“But what of the officers?” someone asked, and there was a chorus of “Yes, what about the blooming officers?”
“I believe,” said Mr. Suttor, “that the officers will endeavour to act in accord with high Western ideals. It is their ambition.”
“It was,” said, someone, “but that was before Japan was Mistress of the World. Now she can afford to set her own code of morals.”
“Mistress of the World!” snorted the American, “not yet! Not by a jugful! She hasn’t beaten America — and isn’t likely to! Then there are the combined Continental fleets. Why, Japan’ll be pulverised presently!”
“I beg leave to doubt it,” said, the Captain of one of the steamers trading to the East. “I read it that the Japs plan simultaneous action in various parts of the world, and if the cables were working true I believe you’ll find that what has happened to the British fleet happened to the Continental fleets on or about the same day. The American fleet will be dealt with next.
“As you know,” continued the skipper, “the Chinese and Japanese navies combined exceed in strength the British and Continental Navies. China has poured millions into warships, as all the world knows, but I question whether anyone outside China and Japan realise their strength in submarine torpedo boats.
“Then they had the advantage of starting this wiping-out war without giving warning, and they could crush the Continental Navies before they knew where they were. Japan and China would capture a lot of warships uninjured, and would get more strength that way if they required it — which they don’t. Then, as to land operations, look at their field guns that they can smash an enemy with before he can shell them.”
“You seem to have no doubt of it,” remarked a storekeeper.
“Well, as a matter of fact, amongst a certain circle of talkative young bloods of Japan this has been boasted about for years. I often heard the remark in Kobe, where I met a number of these young fellows of good families, and all in the navy. They used to say, ‘It is merely a matter of ships and guns and good men behind them. We have ships and guns and men; China will give us more ships and guns and men. The best gunners in all the world can be bought by payment or big wages if they don’t know they are intended to fight against their own flag.’”
“True enough,” remarked a bystander, moodily.
“And I haven’t a doubt that the crack gunners of all the world’s navies have been so bought, continued the skipper.
“But will they fire straight at their own countrymen?” asked one of the crowd.
“Even if they don’t, their countrymen will be under the enormous disadvantage of losing their services.”
We had drifted to the outskirts of the crowd during this conversation.
Suddenly the meeting became much disturbed.
Cries of “Bank!” and “Our money!” reached us from near the platforms, and these were at once taken up all round.
The people were demanding that the Government Savings Bank, as well as the ordinary banks, should pay out at once.
“This is a time when we must take care of our own money,” screamed one.
The declaration evoked a storm of approval.
“When the Japs come — (they did not now say, ‘If the Japs come’) — the first thing they will do will be to go to the jiggered banks,” cried another.
The speakers then failed to hold the crowd.
Men and women scampered off in thousands to the banks, where they clamoured for those in charge to open the doors.
Of course, only one here and there had pass-books with them. This was pointed out by bank officials from the balconies. They promised that if the people who had accounts insisted upon getting their money they should have it by applying with their books.
To that end the banks would arrange to open at midnight, the full staffs would be summoned, and the police would govern the entry and exit of the crowd.
That was how that night ended.
* * *
Next morning’s papers, in reporting the run on the banks, mentioned that many Savings Bank depositors were disappointed, as the money had run out owing to the Government borrowing from the bank.
* * *
There was still no word of the Japanese fleet.
Trade was paralysed, and a terrible state of unrest prevailed.
Thousands of people were leaving for the country; many were in motor cars; others drove and rode horses; and cyclists passing in the direction of the mountains were numerous.
No message of importance was flashed from the lighthouses — they had been deserted by their staffs — and the cables were, of course, unreliable; in fact, all but the one to Fanning Island remained lifeless.
Fanning Island spoke several times during the day. One message was for Mabel. She brought it to me that evening. It read:—
“Yoko is in New Caledonia. Do not fear. No harm shall be done you.”
The message was from Taksuma.
Mabel was much frightened by it, despite the reassuring words.
“I feel that he is clutching at me,” she said, “and he’ll soon be here.”
“Before he shall touch you,” I said, “I’ll shoot you.”
Looking into my eyes she read my resolve.
And she seemed to derive comfort from my words, realising that I would not let her cross the dark chasm alone.
Rata, The Coloured Conquest, Sydney (NSW): N.S.W. Bookstall Co., 1904, pp. 81-89
an’ = (vernacular) and
bally = an exclamatory term, a euphemism for “bloody”; an exclamation used for emphasis, or as an expression of annoyance or anger against someone or something (e.g. “That bally idiot!”)
Continental = (in a British context or from a British viewpoint) continental Europe (i.e. excluding the British Isles)
crack = expert (e.g. an expert at shooting is called a “crack shot”)
dark chasm = the area between Life and Death
durned = (American vernacular) alternative form of “darned” (a euphemism for “damned”)
’em = (vernacular) a contraction of “them”
Fanning Island = the atoll of Tabuaeran, also known as Fanning Island, part of the Republic of Kiribati (a country comprised of various islands, located in Micronesia, in the central Pacific Ocean); Tabuaeran is located south of Hawaii and north of the Cook Islands)
See: “Tabuaeran”, Wikipedia
funk = a state of fear or panic (may also refer to a coward; may also refer to a state of depression, including the phrase “in a blue funk”)
Japs = abbreviation of “Japanese” (a reference to a group of Japanese, or Japanese in general)
jingo = (plural: jingoes) someone or something infused with jingoism: a bullish patriotism, especially regarding a belligerent foreign policy or giving very strong support to a policy of war (the word also appears in the phrase “by jingo”, an exclamation of surprise)
Kobe = the capital city of Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan
See: “Kobe”, Wikipedia
Member = (in the context of parliament or parliamentarians) Member of Parliament
paper = newspaper
[Editor: Changed “required strength, consequently was smashed” to “required strength, and consequently was smashed”; “Guess, I knew” to “Guess I knew” (removed comma); “what has happened the British fleet happened the Continental fleets” to “what has happened to the British fleet happened to the Continental fleets”.]