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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Killer George and the high jump

‘My brothers call me “Killer.”’

   The crowd of Calliope kids who had made a ring around him opened like a flower when he said that, as if he suddenly needed a bit more more space. I was one of those kids. He grinned, flashing perfect white teeth against his dark skin.

   ‘But my real name is Kyla,’ he added softy, and grinned once more. Reassured, our little group moved in again around him.

   Kyla George. I can see him now as clear as a bell. Ah, if I only had a photo, but I don't. It was Boyne Valley Sports Day, one of the special days of the year.

   All the little schools dotted up the Boyne Valley would meet annually at one or other of the schools and there would be inter-school competition in running, jumping, and ball games. Calliope school, with about fifty pupils at the time, was one of the biggest schools of the Boyne Valley. Most of them had about twenty kids at the most.

   They were usually one teacher schools, though occasionally there was an assistant if for some reason there was a population explosion in one of the townships. Just having twins could increase a school’s numbers significantly. A new family’s coming to town was a major, if rare event for most of them, like when the Harrisons came to Calliope from Sheffield and added five pupils to the school. Calliope school numbers increased by 10% as a result.

   Calliope, Ubobo, Nagoorin, Many Peaks, Littlemore and Builyan were ranged in battle. Bororen and Miriam Vale did not compete, as strictly speaking they weren’t real Boyne Valley, being right at the mouth of that river and not on the Monto rail line through Biloela. We regarded them as being more in Gladstone territory, like Yarwun and Targinnie and Mount Larcom. Other than for events like these, there really was little contact between these tiny villages.

   Calliope school colours were gold and black. Gold shirt for the boys, black shorts. I’m really not sure about the girls’ sports uniform - probably a gold blouse and little straight black skirt. I had no interest in such details at age 10, but I did love Boyne Valley Sports Day.

   Still, I’ve found that gold and black have been excellent jockey silks colours to choose when picking a winner of the Melbourne Cup over the years. Ignore the form guide or anything else – just put your money on gold and black. It works for me.

   Many Peaks was the home of Killer George. He was the son of Lloyd George – not that one in the Old Country, of course, who made a bit of a splash in British politics in the early twentieth century. No, the real Lloyd George of Many Peaks, Boyne Valley, Queensland, Australia was a tall, solid, well built Aboriginal man who fathered ten children at least, thus making Many Peaks one of the few towns down the coastal region of Australia where the Aboriginal population was in a majority in the school.

   I never saw Mrs George, but whatever contribution she and her husband made to the gene pool in Australia, it was a magnificent one. Every one of those kids was half a head taller than just about any white kid of their age, and each of their physiques, boy or girl, was practically perfect. Not only that, they stood tall as well. You know what I mean. Manly – that was what Captain Cook called the Aboriginal men he first saw where Sydney now is, and why the Sydney suburb of Manly is so called. That’s what they were.

   The thing is, or was in 1957, the George family on its own made Many Peaks, with its total of twenty children, a formidable school to be reckoned with at the Boyne Valley Sports. If, in the boys’ tunnel ball event there weren’t enough boys to fill the six spaces for the Senior Boys’ team, the George girls stepped in, and they were at least as strong, agile and sharp as all the boys in any team, pound for pound.

   Thank heaven we didn’t have javelin throwing included in the school sports, or Many Peaks would have wiped us out. I don’t mean literally, though maybe they could have done that too, in about ten minutes, if they had enough javelins and put their mind to it.

   Let me say right here and now that there was no racism where we lived, certainly none amongst the kids. If there was amongst the adults, we kids weren’t infected with it. Sure, there was an awareness of difference of skin colour, but there was no negativity about it. Come to think of it, in the tropical sunshine of Central Queensland, we were all pretty much the same colour, by and large. Even the paler skinned whites had freckles that joined up, or as Eric Olthwaite said of black puddings in Ripping Yarns, 'Even the white bits were black!'

   In any case, it would have been folly of the sheerest kind to pick on the George kids because of the colour of their skin, not that there was the least trace of aggressiveness of that sort exhibited by them – nor towards them by white kids.

   They didn’t have to be aggressive. I can’t speak for the rest of the country in that era, but there was none of that smouldering resentment not far below the surface we see today - nothing like that in the Boyne Valley. Kids were kids; black, white, brown or brindle. There were children who were descendants of the Chinese gold miners and others like the Singhs whose ancestry went back to the Afghan camel drivers. The Singhs came and went from Calliope, like gypsies. Maybe they were. Did you know the gypsies actually came from India originally, not Egypt?

   Anyway, no-one gave a hoot about their colour.

   Lloyd George had brought his kids down to Calliope for the School Sports that year in his big white truck. Apart from one or two in the front, they were all sitting or standing quietly in the open tray as it pulled up at the school. He had the sunniest of dispositions and his face was wreathed in smiles as he got out of the truck, and told them all to get down - not that they needed telling. Forty kilometres of bush roads was long enough to stand or be jolted about in the back of any truck, holding on at times like grim death through rough creek crossings.

   They also brought wooden crates of food with them – thick sliced sandwiches filled with great slabs of chicken or beef, in brown paper bags, together with clingstone peaches, guavas and bush oranges, a bright red tomato or two and a four gallon steel jerry can of rain water.

   That’s when it was that a group of us Calliope kids gathered around Killer George and we talked in that shy, quiet way that country kids do with strangers. ‘How old are you?’ one of us asked.

   It was only a few minutes after disclosing his nickname and his age that I became aware of a rather disturbing truth.

   Three truths, in fact. He was my age, he stood a whole head taller than I did, and I would be competing against him in the high jump.

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