And on the 10th Day, They Buried Him
On the first day the radio played in the Adelaide flat of a young woman. The radio played most days in the flat of this young woman.
The young woman in the flat did not turn the radio off when it started to tell of the airplane crash. But she stopped to listen. She listened and as she heard she formed a picture in her mind, she formed a picture of the airplane and the crash scene. She did not have the courage to form a picture of the eight-young people involved. Not yet.
The young woman worked in her flat that afternoon. She changed the bed sheets and piled them in a corner, ready for the laundromat. ‘Although, I will not go to the laundromat on this day’, she thought. The young woman decided she would not go out at all on this day. She washed the dishes, she swept the floor, she found things to do. The young woman was waiting….
There was no clock in the young woman’s flat, but on each hour, the radio newsreader re-read the headlines.
Each hour the newsreader said, “This information has come from a short-wave radio enthusiast. The radio enthusiast had advised, that ‘eight young people had left Cairns airport at 3.40 in a Piper Navaho heading for the Birdsville Races. The plane had lost radio contact five minute out of Cairns. The newsreader added that the RAAF and others were searching for signs of any wreckage.”
The young woman decided she could not be expected to wait any longer and she took off to the beach. She dawdled along, looking out to sea, looking at the people and considering life.
She sat on the park bench. For a while the sister sat on the park bench reminiscing. She remembered the night she and her brother had travelled in a train toward Sydney together. Mathew had asked his sister, ‘Do you think I should marry Helen?’
Matthew’s sister recalled her response, ‘If you have to ask me,’ she had advised, ‘then you’re not sure enough’. She wished now, that she had been more reassuring for him.
Eventually the young woman stood up and wandered back to her flat.
Before long the phone rang.
No, the young woman thought resentfully, no, not yet! I am not ready! She approached the annoying phone, she considered it, lifted the handset.
In Melbourne the young woman’s auntie said, ‘Will you come home? There’s a problem.’
The young woman felt she knew what the problem was so she inquired, ‘What sort of problem?’
‘Matthew’s plane has crashed; the Police have told us they don’t expect any survivors. We wondered if you would be able to contact Henry to make sure he knows?’
‘I can try.’
The sister could not think of anything to say.
Perhaps it was easiest not to think.
Of course, she reminded herself, Helen was on the plane too.
And then she thought, I did not phone, as I had promised. I did not wish them a happy trip as I had intended.
And she tried to phone Matthew’s journalist friend in Adelaide. He could not come to the phone. She left her name.
And then, the sister of an airplane crash victim phoned the Adelaide airport to book a seat on an airplane to Melbourne.
How, she wondered would she make contact with Henry? He had flown to Burra in Central South Australia the day before.
The sister sat on the log in the back yard of her horse stable apartment and wondered.
Alcohol seemed the only connection. The sister rang the Burra Hotel. ‘It is important that my brother phone his family in Melbourne’, she said, and she hesitated to say the words this first time, the strange and alien words, the unwanted and unwelcome words, ‘I have to tell him’, the sister heard herself say, ‘that his oldest brother was a passenger in the airplane which crashed near Cairns this afternoon’.
The lady publican made condolence like noises and the sister understood that this would be a rare opportunity in the lady publican’s life to perform public melodrama. The sister hung up the telephone.
The sister went to bed. It was early. She wanted to dream, to think, to find her brother. She wanted to search the universe for Helen, for their consciousness, for their spirits?
On the Second Day.
Two people, parents, sat at the kitchen table. They drank cups of tea. They were waiting….
The newspaper said that a plane carrying eight young holiday makers to the Birdsville Races had lost radio contact five minutes out of Cairns. The paper said that the following organisations had been searching for the wreckage since first light:
The State Emergency Service
The Nationals Safety Council of Australia
The Coast Guard
Also searching were:
Members of the local aero club.
The young woman’s auntie met her plane from Adelaide at the Melbourne airport. They drove together to the family home
They drank a cup of tea.
At the family home the phone rang constantly. Visitors arrived and drank cups of tea. The mother of the family served cups of tea and chattered with her visitors in the lounge room. The father of the family went off to the family business offices.
The police phoned to say they were coming to visit the family home.
The father of the family came home from his office.
At 4.30pm on the second day the Police arrived at the family home. The Policemen walked with a mission, into the lounge room of the parents whose son was reported as one of the passengers in the crashed Pepe Navajo.
‘I am required to tell you’, said the youngest Policeman, ‘that your son died at 3.40 yesterday afternoon in a plane accident’. Reading from his note book he continued, ‘the plane he was a passenger in, is believed to have crashed somewhere north of Cairns’. The man fidgeted and was nervous. ‘We are hoping the wreckage will be observable to the pilots who are presently searching the area’. The Policeman backed out of the lounge room of the dead man’s family’s house just as quickly as they had wanted to get into it. Their burden delivered.
From the bottom of the porch steps the youngest Policeman added, ‘we will keep you informed’.
The dead son’s mother and father sat on in the lounge room. Later they would drink a cup of tea. The dead man’s auntie came and sat with them in the kitchen. The phone rang.
Later in the evening of the second day, the phone rang. It was the youngest son, of the parents, whose eldest son was dead, it was Henry.
On the Third Day
The dead son’s parents and the dead brother’s sister sat at the kitchen table.
Flowers were often delivered to the front door of the dead man’s family home. The phone rang constantly. Visitors came and drank their cups of tea in the lounge room with the dead son’s mother. The dead son’s father could not join in the constant chatter and wishes of condolence. The dead son’s father preferred to be alone.
The dead son’s father had had a mission. His mission was to produce the best wine this country could export. He had sent each of his children to study in foreign countries when they were only teenagers. And again, if they had desired, to complete post-graduate education.
A father’s dream had died.
The newspapers said, that a widespread air search involving seven helicopters and more than a dozen planed had begun at first light of the second day.
They were searching for a father’s lost dream and a mother’s lost child.
They were searching for a sister’s lost companion and a brother’s lost confidante.
Later that day, the radio said that from the air, ‘the constable who had first spotted the wreckage, could see that two bodies were in the plane and others were scattered everywhere’. The dead son’s father cried, and later, he cried again.
The radio said that the Royal Australian Air Force had sent two helicopters to the mountains West of Cairns. The two helicopters contained three policemen, investigators and a doctor who had been winched into the site and left there to stand guard through-out the second night, over Mount Williams’ dead.
The radio said that luck had played a big part in the sighting. The radio reported a Royal Australian Air Force officer as saying that anyone flying just three meters either side of the crash site would not have seen it.
The phone rang and a Police officer advised the dead man’s family that a family member would be required to go to Cairns to identify the dead body.
The youngest son phoned, he had decided that he would not be coming straight home to his remaining family, he had decided that he would spend a few days travelling back o Melbourne with his fellow campers and his family-in-law.
On the Fourth Day
The dead son’s parents and the dead brother’s sister sat at the kitchen table for breakfast.
Flowers arrived regularly. The phone rang constantly. The visitors drank their cups of tea. The mail brought cards of sympathy.
New details were added to the incomplete picture of tragedy. The papers said the holidaymakers had died for the sake of three meters. They said that the Piper Navajo had clipped the tops of high trees and catapulted over the summit of Mount Williams and had come to rest about 100 meters down the other side.
The papers added that a team of Policemen with chain saws and machetes had been winched into the crash site from a hovering helicopter. They hoped to clear the thick bush and provide a landing pad for the Royal Australian Air Force helicopter.
The papers said that Aviation Department inspectors had also been winched into the crash scene and were investigating the cause of the tragedy.
The dead brother’s sister phoned the Melbourne Age to place a notice in the column under the heading Deceased persons.
When the operator answered the call the dead brother’s sister leaned back against the wall and said, ‘I need to place a notice in the Deceased persons section of your paper’.
The woman on the other end said, ‘hold the phone please, putting you through’.
The next operator requested, ‘Yes, can I help you?’
‘I need to place a notice in the Deceased Persons section of your paper’.
‘What’s our notice please?’ a voice from out of the phone.
The dead brother’s sister read slowly from her notes on paper: Hickinbotham, Matthew John, (Killed in an air crash) September 2, in the company of Helen Bird. Beloved son of Brian and Elaine, brother of Jan and Henry, friend of Elsie.
Arrangements were made for the dead man’s cousin to fly from Brisbane to Cairns and make the identification of the dead cousin’s body.
On the Fifth Day
The remaining family sat at the kitchen table. Flowers filled every room in the house. The phone rang less constantly. The visitor’s cups were emptied. The mail bought many more cards of sympathy than it had delivered on the fourth day.
Few details were added to the advancing picture of tragedy
The authorities requested permission from the dead man’s family to perform an autopsy. Each body would have to be analysed for drug and alcohol content.
The cousin did not fly to Cairns to make the identification of his dead cousin’s body.
The family had a business meeting. Who should do what? It was declared that the father, who as company chairperson, had worked closely with his dead son, could not work with his daughter. He decided that he would need to be the major contact in the on-going business.
The daughter, the second child, but now the oldest child, declared she would return to Adelaide from where she had flown on the first day. Although guilty thoughts of desertion flickered dangerously in her head.
The newspapers contained the heading ‘Local Expert dies in Cairns plane crash’, with a photograph of the sister’s dead brother.
Another newspaper ran the heading, ‘Hickinbotham set pace in wine industry’. The editorial read, ‘The plane crash on rugged Mount Williams just outside Cairns on Tuesday afternoon robbed Australia of one of its most brilliant winemakers, a remarkable individual and a friend of mine. Short in stature, Matthew, 30, was huge in vision, ability and dedication, he was always exploring new ideas and although he often upset the mainstream, he produced wonderful wine.’
On the Sixth Day
The remaining family sat at the kitchen table. The dead flowers were replaced by the new flowers. The phone rang. The priest came for a cup of tea. The cards arrived.
New details were added.
The newspapers said the pilot had not been drunk nor had he been on drugs.
The newspapers said that the pilot had told the air traffic controller in the tower, over his radio, that he would fly by instruments and then for some reason, he flew by sight into thick cloud.
The papers did say the air traffic controller, who had been in charge of the tower on that first day, had since been transferred to Brisbane airport to work.
The autopsy report revealed that one passenger had consumed a single alcoholic drink, a second passenger had consumed two alcoholic drinks. None of the passengers contained any traces of amphetamines in their blood streams.
The Adelaide newspapers did not contain a photograph, but one ran the heading ‘Mourning a Pioneer’, the editorial said, ‘And now we mourn. We must wait a while, and watch closely while the remaining family regroup’.
And in another paper, a story about the deceased. ‘I remember Mathew telling me, “one lateral kiss is worth a thousand standing up”’.
The dead man’s parents had tea with the priest. The priest they had requested would come from the country to perform the funeral service. The priest who would come from the country was the father of the dead son’s best friend, Chris.
On this day, the sister of the dead son drove in contemplation to the family’s company offices where she sat under the dead brother’s desk and wished-for connection. Nothing happened so she drove thoughtfully back to the family home.
On the Seventh Day
The small family sat at the kitchen table. Floral scents filled the air. Occasionally the phone rang. The funeral directors came for tea. Cards adorned the mantels.
No details were added to the picture of tragedy.
The dead brother’s brother arrived with his wife. The family had a cup of tea in the kitchen.
The authorities said the dead son’s body could not be returned until all of the deceased persons had been identified. The brother’s body had not yet been identified by his cousin.
The Sydney newspapers did not contain a photograph. One reported, ‘Matthew Hickinbotham was bigger in heart than in stature. He was short and stocky with an unruly mop of hair, with a slight squint which could have been due to the mischievous grin his whiskery face often wore. Even when visiting the city, he preferred to wear a rustic open–neck check shirt’.
The same paper continued, ‘Matthew Hickinbotham is gone and the industry is the poorer. But his parents, Brian and Elaine, brother Henry and sister Jan will continue the family’s long-standing commitment to winemaking.
The father of the dead son went to the family offices. He stayed there for a couple of hours. He typed out some letters. Then he drove back to his family home.
The dead brother’s sister walked into the park across the road from the family home with her dead brother’s dog. She lay along the park bench dreaming of her friend in Adelaide, whom she could possibly have loved.
On the Eighth Day
The small business family sat at the kitchen table, they discussed which hymns would be sung at the funeral. The flowers died. The funeral directors rang. No-one came for tea. Cards piled up on the coffee table.
The papers were unable to provide any further details of the tragic deaths on Mount Williams.
The dead brother’s brother arrived with his wife. They had a cup of tea in the family kitchen.
The authorities said there would be a coronial inquiry to determine the cause of the airplane accident on Mount Williams.
The authorities said, the dead son’s body could not be returned as yet because not all of the deceased persons had been identified.
The dead cousin’s body had been identified by his cousin.
The aviation department said they would send the dead man’s belonging to the nearest police station.
The national newspaper ran this comment, ‘He had also demonstrated a quixotic willingness to tilt at windmills, defying conventional wisdom…’
The father of the dead son went to work at his office.
The dead brother’s sister drove to the family business offices. Everyone there looked destitute, like a group of orphans, sitting at an empty dinner table, eyes wondering, searching for guidance and hope. There was nothing for the dead man’s sister to do at the offices. Her job was now attended to by the women the family business had employed three months earlier when the dead brother’s sister had left the family business to go and live in Adelaide.
The dead brother’s sister left the offices and wandered through the dead brother’s flat at the rear of the business.
As the sister wandered through the flat she stopped in front of each painting. When she stopped, she reminisced. She could picture the pleasure on his face, as they had arranged each painting together in the house he would share with his dead girlfriend. It was not the first house he had shared with his girlfriend, but it was the first house they would share alone together.
The dead brother’s sister remembered her brother’s frustration when one painting did not hang horizontally with the floor, the roof and the curtain rail.
‘That’s not straight’, he accused his dead girlfriend’s eye-levelling when he got down from the ladder and stood back for a critical view.
‘It’s aligned with the picture rail’, the dead girlfriend had defended.
‘Ump’, he grumped, ‘Yes, it’s the lean of this house’, he had added in a softer tone.
The dead brother’s sister sat for a long time in front of the crooked picture. It was difficult, she found, to feel the pain of the death of her brother’s girlfriend as well as the pain she felt when she thought of her dead brother. The dead brother’s girlfriend was only twenty-three. Had only been twenty-three, the sister reminded herself.
The dead brother’s sister had suggested to her mother that the two bodies be buried together. But neither of the mothers could encompass this wish one would have buried her child in a foreign state.
Later the dead brother’s sister thought of Adelaide. She thought of the friend she had wanted to love. She thought of her potential career.
And later still she drove back to the family home.
On the Ninth Day
The small business family arrived one by one at the family kitchen table. Mother boiled the kettle, she made the tea in a pot. Someone poured a cup of tea from the pot, milk first.
Each family members slowly drooped onto the table, resting their heads in their hands or on their folded arms. Father tapped and rapped on the Laminex table top. Sometimes the family members swung back in their plastic/metal kitchen chairs, Mother said, don’t swing in your chair.
The dead man’s brother answered the front door bell. He took the bundle of cards, he closed the door on the post person, he returned to the kitchen table. The dead man’s brother placed the cards onto the kitchen table. The dead man’s brother picked one of the cards and opened the envelope. It’s from Chris, he announced.
The telephone rang on the wall. Mother rose from her plastic/metal chair, took two steps, picked up the telephone receiver, Yes, Hello, Judith speaking. Finally, she said, we can bury Matthew.
Mother hung up the phone, his body arrives tomorrow, she whispered.
The family members removed their eyes from the Mother, returning their gaze to tea cups, tea pot, milk jug. Tapping, rapping, the father dropped a tear, was he unaware.
Let’s go for a walk in the park, the dead brother’s sister-in-law suggested.
The silent family sat in their plastic/metal chairs, some rocked.
The family’s eyes were on tea cups, sugar bowl, milk jug, tea pot.
The father tapped, rapped. I’m going to the office, he said, dashing the dried-up tear from the corner of his mouth.
There’s going to be a wake, the dead man’s sister said.
Maddigan’s putting it on, she sighed, anxious.
I’m not going the mother spat. Are we Ian?
The dead man’s sister called the dead man’s dog, Poopa, Poopa. The dead man’s sister pushed her plastic/metal chair back from the kitchen table, rising she called his dog, Poopa, come on, let’s go?
The dead man’s sister-in-law took the hand of her partner, we’ll go for a walk.
The mother picked up the phone receiver and dialed….
And On the Tenth Day They Buried Him
Saturday 31st of October at 4pm
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First thing I remember…
Was lying on the front lawn,
with Ian, Jude, Stephen and Andrew
Staehr Street, Nuriootpa.
‘There’s a bear’ Andrew yelled,
‘And a goat with a spear,’ said Stephen,
‘It’s shifting fast’, dad said. The billowing clouds, moved on.
Next thing I remember…
Sitting under the piano, in Camberwell.
Dad singing, ‘Dayo’ and conducting everyone with his finger.
Grandma teaching me the knee wobble dance.
‘Dayo, dayaaaaaaoooooo’ sang Dad,
‘Daylight come and he wana go home. Daaayyyyoooo, d-a-a-a-a-a-OOOOO….
Next thing I remember….
Lunch at the big table in Burwood.
At least three catholic priests beside me-
Ian’s uncle Terry, with his mates,
all as humorous as celibate Benny Hills…
minus the chase - di, di, diddle, diddle, diddly, de…,
to table, for mum’s great food and dad’s great wine.
Next thing I remember….
the typewriter clacking, clack, clack, clack,
outside my bedroom door.
But it’s five am,
dad’s writing an article, for The Age.
‘Turning over the Pages’, about a meal with Eric and Doreen Page.
And I remember….
Going to Hollydene, with dad, in the Hunter.
Dad built the round winery, bins moved around on rails,
to catch mast from the Potters above.
Soft mist through the morning gums, lazy kangaroos.
Fashion, YES, I DO remember a Fashion Parade!
At the Nataraja, Indian Restaurant, upstairs.
Cousins, friends, quickly changing into Indian day-wear
behind the curtain (not for me),
Prancing, striding, strolling, rolling, down the aisle,
Lectures, classes, I remember!!
At Grace Park, for CAE,
Ian teaching wine appreciation.
Thousand-dollar bottles from France, Spain, Germany, Australia, New Zealand…
Pork Rillettes, cooked lovingly, over thirteen hours, by Jude.
Chris helping, everyone, helping out.
Everyone learning about wine and food.
What about lunch at the Wine Press Club!!
Yeah, and we won the trophy, 1983 Mt Anakie Cabernet.
Dad so proud, Inaugural President.
We kids dressed-up, year after year, anxious, self-conscious,
partaking of the formalities and ceremony,
learning dad’s passion, learning Plonky Business.
And remember Stelvin!
Dad paid to promote the screw top.
Oh, did he love that,
a bottle top so technical, that any waiter could
screw it off.
Special memories, happy, fun, adventures.
Love these recollections, Dad. Thanks.
Oh, Yeah, I remember, a VERY special time.
After Stephen died, Andrew on the Peninsula, Jude in Newport.
Dad and I working together, just the two of us,
I learned to love you, like I’d never done before.
Extraordinary, cooperative, sharing-time together.
Never more to be.
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