Tobacco Stringing, Dalbeg, North Queensland – December 1961

            My boy is called Dino Poley. He is Italian but born in Australia. The Ringroks and Keniffs are terrific matchmakers and are now longing to get Lister a date with some girl or other. They just about push you into the most eligible boys’ arms. Elizabeth was amazed. Of course I’ve seen them in action before. Elizabeth’s boy is called Bill Leacey. Dino looks very kind and has a lovely smile but I don’t think he’s very interesting. He is very quiet but when you speak to him he sort of lights up. Bill is ordinary but quite nice. In one way they provide an interest but it is a bit of a bore and disturbs the peace one tends to settle into here, and which is so pleasant as a change from university life. The Keniffs and Ringroks seem to think that if you have a boy you must be happy, it doesn’t matter much who. I think they think we’re a bit queer, needing so much pushing. You couldn’t imagine how much they organize things without seeing it.

            We went into Ayr the Saturday night before Christmas and it was awful. We went to a hotel where there was a sort of beer garden with a floor for dancing and an incredible band. A great fat woman who played the piano and stared out constantly at the people with a completely dead-pan expression, a guitarist and singer who never changed his expression, and a mad elderly drummer who flirted with us and got madder and madder as the night went on and he got drunker. The people were a motley collection – a lot of Italian men, some men and women with children and an assorted lot of Australians, mostly pretty draggish. The families mainly just sat there, never moving for hours, while the children wandered round picking up peanuts from the floor. We were provided with whistles to blow. The floor was quite large and mostly crowded, but what was so awful was that there was no joy anywhere. All these people were supposed to be enjoying themselves and probably were as much as they ever had. They didn’t know what joy is. The only consolation was jiving because, no matter who you’re dancing with, if they can do it you enjoy it, and you get so wrapped up in the movement that you don’t notice what’s going on round about. Later we went to another hotel, at Brandon, a small town about 5 miles from Ayr. This was really dreadful. The other place was passable but this was tough and dreadful. There was much the same set-up, but far fewer people. It somehow had a vulgarity the other place missed. It gave the impression that there must be hundreds of similar places in little towns in Australia where people enjoy themselves. This was horrible to think of. I met a man there who was liberal in the way most people are Communist – dogmatic, belligerent, and arrogant. I really would have guessed he was Communist. We had quite an irritable argument and his great over-riding reason for being liberal seemed to be that they will win. He was one of those dreadful people to argue with who concede you points and then say the opposite, say they understand but don’t at all. I rather hated him. He said to write to him in ten years and tell him if I was still labour. He betted I wouldn’t be. I couldn’t find out what his job was but he seemed not to work at all. He lived in a hotel. He was Scotch and about 40, thin with glasses. He jived with little tarty girls, stamping his feet about but quite good.

            One thing I liked was two funny skinny old men who danced with an oldish woman in an exaggeratedly professional way. One moved about with great long sweeping strides, bending the woman over backwards, made particularly funny by his knobby old knees and skinny calves. The other did a sort of cave man jive, bending down low, gaping, and clapping.

            Tonight we’re going to the New Year’s Eve dance at Dalbeg.

            There is a Greek on this farm who left Cyprus because they were after his life, something political. He reads a German philosopher called Fabricius? He often plays Greek records and it’s nice when you’re sitting outside to hear the raving and mournful wavering on the note that the Greeks have in common with the Indians in their singing.

            I’m reading the Communist Manifesto and I’ve never come across so many unjustified assumptions in my life. You have to keep thinking up your own explanations for its quite unqualified assumptions about economic development and its influence in other fields and about the place of the bourgeoisie in historic development. Although you can usually find them it makes it seem all very arbitrary because you feel you could just as well have found justifications for quite a different theory. It seems so much a one-sided interpretation. I was amused and surprised at its sentimentality concerning lordship and vassalage.        

Dino has a brother called Sag (Sergio) with a beard and red mouth showing through it in the way Roy Churcher’s does. He looks rather wild and scares me a bit but Elizabeth is made of sterner stuff and thinks he is gorgeous. He’s always supposed to be reading – comics and westerns.

            When I first came here I was awfully alert and felt keen-minded after the exams, but now I’m sinking down towards the beasts of the fields. Apparently you can’t keep a body and mind working at the same time.

            We live in a grading room upstairs, with unpainted orangey plywood walls. The branches of a rain-tree just reach above the window sills and at night I can see the stars and clouds from my bed, and I enjoy this. But in the day if I’m resting, trying to have a sleep, sometimes the room gives me a dreadful empty feeling that I’m wasting my life lying there. There seems to be nothing in that room to live for. And sometimes when I’m half-asleep and my mind’s empty and defenceless a realization of death flashes in on me. I’m not afraid of it and don’t care really when I die except that I would like to have done something I’m made for before I do, but it seems dreadful and incomprehensible that death should be. I feel this personally as well as generally. It makes me think that minds are out of place in this transient world. Death and change should occur, not be known.

            I was having a great rage against my mind one day, out in the paddock, because my mind seems to leave me, myself, out of account. My mind seems to tie me to my emotions, just as emotionally I am forced to think, and tire me out. You and John Fowler and others are lucky in that either you can identify yourselves with your intellect or else the gap between your intellectual thinking and your feelings is great enough so that there is no constant tension between them. I feel at the mercy of my mind and yet I couldn’t give it up, having got it. Elizabeth feels much like me in this. It is dreadful when thinking is tied to feeling. Purely intellectual thinking is wonderful and exhilarating.

Sometimes I get so tired of feeling for people. In this way I am tied to the Ringroks. After having known them as I did in the first year I was here I could never give them up, even if our friendship went quite sour. At the moment we are getting on very well. We cook for ourselves now, and this seems to have relieved all the tensions. Mrs Ringrok is very bossy towards her husband and I feel very sad about the way it is affecting him. He usually gives in, and is getting an almost saintlike expression at times, and there is often pain in his eyes when you wouldn’t expect it. He gives in not because he is weak, but because she never would. She just doesn’t see that she is bossy, and so can’t try to regulate her bossiness.

            Elizabeth says she isn’t at all pantheistic in her beliefs now. She is not Christian. She believes in God and an after life, but can’t explain to me how, so that I can understand. Probably because I can’t believe in anything, not even the clouds on Mt Coot-tha, we can’t communicate on that subject.

            I’ve got very brown from working in the sun. And I must be getting awfully strong from lifting the heavy tobacco bales. I hate to think what I’ll be like when I get back from Tasmania.

            I wrote to Ellen and Rob at length about my thesis topic. I’ve decided that I should get a terrific kick out of writing about Walter Raleigh and the Elizabethans if I don’t work with first class honours in mind, but just for what interests me. Ellen has a new job which sounds awfully interesting. This is what she says – “I am now being a clerk in Collets Book Shop in the Export Subscription department. We are concerned with sending banned publications of all sorts into Russia and the other Communist countries. There is another department which arranges for Russian publications to come here. The place is staffed mainly with Communists but they are quite unlike what I would imagine. They treat the party as though it was their local church group; They make things for Bazaars and say things like “He’s supposed to be a responsible Party member and yet he does childish things like that.” About the magazines they send – “Some of the little ones like “Laundryman’s Journal” refuse for Patriotic reasons to send to Russia (so the bookshop orders them in its own name and posts them off) but the Government printers send off the reports on Atomic Energy Research without any worry.” They are becoming mixed up in CND.

            Tonight we are sitting out listening to the Greek music playing in the workers’ quarters and I was thinking how sad all primitive music is and how different from Western music. And yet basically it echoes something in us. It makes one wonder whether primitive man expresses man most truthfully and whether more developed types of music are just accretions invented by man to distract himself from a fundamental sadness. And man is, as the music seems to express, lost in the world.

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