Joe Brunnel’s Dream [10 August 1895]

[Editor: This short story was published in The Worker (Brisbane, Qld.), 10 August 1895.]

Joe Brunnel’s Dream.

Shearing was about to commence at —— station, and about a dozen of the old hands had arrived. Seated in the hut after the usual evening meal, we were relating recess experiences, when old Joe Brunnel, who had remained very quiet during the whole time, was asked if he had not something to relate.

“Well,” said Joe, “I don’t know whether the relation of my little experiences will be pleasant.”

“Go on, Joe!” were the responses. For Joe was the oldest of the group, staunch to the backbone, and one who could tell a good yarn when he felt inclined.

Joe rested his head on his hand for a few moments and seemed to be thinking deeply. Then with an impatient move he passed his hand across his forehead as though wishing to drive away some painful thoughts.

“You are not all aware that I am a married man and have a family at ——,” said Joe, “two of which are girls, and what I am going to tell you turns principally on the fate of one of them. Some of you know that I have not always followed my present occupation, but that a few years ago I was forced out of the city by the large influx of Chinamen into the cabinetmaking trade. Curse them! I will pass over several years, as it it only within the last three what I am going to relate occurred.

“When I left home previous to last shearing I left as happy a home as one could wish to have. During the season I received a couple of letters from my wife which made me think something was wrong, and on reaching home after the close of the season my suspicions were more than realised. I found that my eldest daughter, Maggie, had been enticed away by a Chinaman. You can perhaps imagine my feeling better than I can describe them, for though I bitterly hated the Mongolian before, my hate now became intense. No measures, I thought, would be too harsh to use in blocking those insidious wage-cutters from landing on Australian shores. My daughter ruined! I endeavoured several times to get her from the house where the Chinaman kept her, but without avail. I even implored them to let me see her and talk with her, but was denied admittance, the inmates even telling me there was no woman of that name in the house. I applied to the police for assistance, but was only laughed at. ‘They had not power to deal with such a case.’ I was nearly raving. I walked the streets striving to overcome the wild thoughts of vengeance which surged through my brain, arriving home late in the evening. That night my wife and I sat up late talking the matter over and not till we heard the clock strike twelve could we reconcile ourselves to turning into bed to try and get some rest.

“I lay there tossing and turning, it seemed to me for hours, when I went off into a troubled sleep. I had lain some time when I felt that I must get up and go for a walk, as my efforts to sleep were fruitless in the excited state of my mind. Out on to the road I went, and I wended my way through one of the populous suburbs into the heart of the city. On and on I went, down streets, through lanes, up alleys and byways, till tired and wearied with my exertions I leaned against the galvanised iron fence on the roadside to rest and endeavour to glean from the buildings around into what locality I had strolled. Just as I had recognised my surroundings, and discovered that I had unconsciously wandered into the Chinese quarter of the city, I heard the sound of voices on the other side of the fence. Anxious to discover the cause of the noise I looked through a chink in the fence when, to my surprise, I saw an immense assemblage of Chinese, Japanese, kanakas, and other coloured races listening with rapt attention to a pig-tailed Chinaman who was addressing them in English, now and again stopping at the request of someone in the crowd to farther explain some expression which had fallen from his tongue. The whole scene was lit up by kerosine flares. As near as I could gather, the pig-tail was speaking in reference to the agitation being raised against coloured labour in the colonies, and somewhat in the following terms:

“‘My friends, I have just arrived here after touring the whole of the land to see if the country is as rich as reports in my native land say it is. I find the accounts are not exaggerated. You, my friends, need not fear the noise of the agitation now being raised against the further introduction of so-called alien labour into this land. You have the hearty good wishes of the wealthy with you. The rulers of the land are on your side. Then what have you to fear? Recourse to arms! you say. Why, you can laugh at such a threat. Listen, you can live cheaper than these miserable disunited whites; you can in a few years, aye, in a few months if necessary, outnumber them by ten to one in this lovely land which they would claim as a “White Man’s Land,” and then slowly and surely make of the country without striking a blow a home for yourselves and your children. Think of it! Not a blow struck, not a life lost. Now perhaps you see a way to drive from this land those who, because they cannot successfully compete with you in the labour market, would drive you forth, rather back to your own land where you would have to drag out a miserable existence in a state of penury from which you are here free.’

“Cheer upon cheer broke forth into the night air when the doughty Chow had finished his address, and he was heartily thanked for clearing the fog from the alien labour agitation.

“I heard someone calling ‘Joe, Joe!’ and awaking I saw the sun was shining in through the window, and I heard my wife calling me to get up and come to breakfast. Dazed was I at first, for the dream I have just recounted kept running through my mind and effectually, for the time at least, subordinated all other questions. I related the whole dream to my wife, who became equally as troubled as myself.”

For a few minutes after Joe had finished speaking the breathing of each person was audible, so intently was he listened to.

“‘Now,” said Mick ——, “I have listened with very great attention to Joe’s story, and it seems to me to picture the state of the country as truly as history could. Since cutting out our last shed last season I have been up and down the coast doing odd jobs, when I could get them, to eke out the time till shearing commenced again. At some ports it was matter of general conversation that one of the shipping companies was talking of manning their ships with lascars again, and many kanakas were to be seen working about toffs’ houses and gardens in and around Brisbane, thus doing white men out of work. It was also suggested, in the interest of the sugar planters, that a bill should be introduced into Parliament to sanction the procuring of ‘cheap and reliable’ labour from New Guinea, seeing that the South Sea Islands were nearly depopulated. All this, too, in the face of the fact that most of the sufferers from leprosy in the colony are representative of the coloured races.”

Jumping to his feet, Mick continued: “Now, I ask you all here, What is our duty to this our land? Are we to sit still and see this foul canker spread over the face of Australia? Or are we to get up and be doing, and, with all the energy we possess, wipe the vile blot from the land, proclaim Australia for the white man, and carry out that proclamation in its entirety? For my part, I am in favour of the latter course. Let us all, in season and out of season, whenever and wherever we can, raise our voices against the continuance in our midst of undesirable races whose presence is a menace to our moral as well as our industrial welfare; and determine once and for all that we shall not give our political support to any man who is not in favour of a White Australia.”

W. M’C.

The Worker (Brisbane, Qld.), 10 August 1895, p. 4

Editor’s notes:
aye = yes (may also be used to express agreement, assent, or the acceptance of an order)

canker = an ulcerous condition or disease affecting humans or animals; an ulcer or sore that is difficult to treat; may also refer to: a fungal disease that attacks the wood of trees (especially apple and pear trees), damaging the bark; an erosive or spreading sore; a gradual and spreading source of corruption, debasement, or evil; a malign and pernicious influence that is hard to eradicate

Chow = a Chinese person (may also refer to something that is Chinese in origin or style, e.g. a “Chow restaurant”)

cut out = depart, leave

doughty = brave, determined, hardy, at the same time being persistent and willing to keep battling on; of fearless resolution, resolute; stouthearted, valiant

eke = make something last longer by using it frugally (e.g. food, finances); to lengthen, to prolong

kanaka = a Pacific Islander employed as an indentured labourer in various countries, such as Australia (especially in Queensland), British Columbia (Canada), Fiji, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu; in Australia the kanakas were mostly used on the sugar plantations and cotton plantations in Queensland; some kanakas were taken by unscrupulous “recruiters” into virtual slavery (a practice known as “blackbirding”), by kidnapping, being lured with false promises, or being signed up under contracts which were of dubious value (the word “kanaka” derives from the Hawaiian word for “person” or “man”)

kerosine = an alternative spelling of “kerosene” (a flammable hydrocarbon oil used as a fuel in lamps and heaters, and also used as a solvent and a thinner)

lascar = an artilleryman, militiaman, sailor, or army officer’s servant, primarily regarding men hired by British employers from India, but also used to refer to men hired from countries in or near to the Indian subcontinent (“lascar” is derived from the Hindi and Urdu word “lashkar”, meaning “army”)

penury = the state of being very poor; severe poverty or destitution

station = a large rural holding for raising sheep or cattle; the term “property” is used for smaller holdings

toff = someone who is rich or upper-class, a term usually used in a somewhat derogatory manner

yarn = a tale, a story; especially a long story, with adventurous and interesting components, particularly with parts that are not believable

[Editor: This article included several inconsistencies and errors re. the usage of quotation marks. Added a double quotation mark after “as myself”. Replaced a single quotation mark with a double quotation mark after the first instance of “Now,”, before “I have listened”, after “coloured races.”, and before the second instance of “Now,”. Removed a double quotation mark before “Jumping to his feet”. Removed a single quotation mark after “White Australia.”.]

Speak Your Mind