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Authors: Johanna Nicholls

Ghost Gum Valley

BOOK: Ghost Gum Valley
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First published in Australia in 2012 by
Simon & Schuster (Australia) Pty Limited
Suite 19A, Level 1, 450 Miller Street, Cammeray, NSW 2062

A CBS Company
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© Johanna Nicholls 2012

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.
National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication entry

Author: Nicholls, Johanna.
Title: Ghost gum valley / Johanna Nicholls.
ISBN: 9780731815210 (pbk)
ISBN: 9781922052216 (ebk)
Subjects: Penal colonies--New South Wales--Fiction. New South Wales--Social life and customs--Fiction.
Dewey Number: A823.4
Editor: Jody Lee
Cover design: Blue Cork Design
Internal design and typesetting: Midland Typesetters, Australia



Book One: The Liaison

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Book Two: The Mask

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Chapter 45

Chapter 46

Chapter 47

Chapter 48

Chapter 49

Chapter 50

Chapter 51

Chapter 52

Chapter 53

Chapter 54

Chapter 55


Author's Notes

Author's Acknowledgements

About the Author

Sydney, New South Wales, January 1836

The whole community is rancorously divided into parties on almost every subject. Among those, who from their station in life ought to be the best, many live in such open profligacy that respectable people cannot associate with them...there is much jealousy between the children of the rich Emancipist; the former being pleased to consider honest men as interlopers. The whole population, rich and poor, are bent on acquiring wealth...

Charles Darwin
His 1836 reflections on the Penal Colony of New South Wales during the fourth of his five years as Naturalist on a survey voyage around the globe on HMS

In honour of the creativity and courage of Actors, Actresses and Comedians throughout the ages.

With special tribute to the First Fleet convicts and marines who performed the first play on Australian soil, Farquhar's
The Recruiting Officer
, January 4, 1789.

And in memory of the quixotic ‘Father of Australian Theatre', Barnett Levey.

Book One
The Liaison

A mistress should be like a little country retreat near the town,
Not to dwell in constantly, but only for a night and away.

William Wycherley, 1675,
The Country Wife, Act I

Chapter 1

Sydney Town, Penal Colony of New South Wales, December 1832

Marmaduke Gamble felt a surge of something akin to love for the bawdy mistress of his native land.

You'll never be a lady, Sydney. But you're my kind of woman. Lusty, voluptuous, gutsy, mercenary – but dead honest for all that.

The marine blue of Port Jackson's giant harbour, busy with convict transports and trading ships under sail, reflected the electric blue of a summer sky so high, so cloudless that Marmaduke was shocked to realise the truth. It had taken four years travelling the northern hemisphere for him to forget the magic of an Australian sky.

He stood on the rooftop of the new luxurious Princess Alexandrina Hotel with the stiff harbour breeze buffeting his long hair and silk dressing-robe. Sydney Town lay at his feet waiting for him to rediscover her. When he had set sail for England as a naïve youth of twenty, humiliated and vowing never to return, the Sydney he left in his wake was dismissed by many as the Whore of Oceania – like some lush, raucous street harlot who was forced to bed all-comers. He now saw Sydney with fresh eyes, transformed like a woman who has risen from the gutter to become a beautiful courtesan and could demand tribute from all her admirers – convicts, free settlers, military officers and men of Quality right up to the new Anglo-Irish Governor Sir Richard Bourke.

Below him lay the panorama of Sydney Town, its northern foreshores dense with species of eucalypts. South of the harbour the wild contrast in architecture seemed to be locked in a battle for supremacy. Impressive mellow sandstone public buildings and church spires that would not disgrace Georgian London stood at close quarters with the infamous Rocks area, packed with rows of hovels and strings of shanties that were an unwelcome reminder of how his Emancipist father Garnet Gamble had begun to amass his fortune.

Sydney's tallest building, completed during his absence, was the extraordinary five-storey complex that comprised a huge warehouse, topped by a mill and windmill and, fronting George Street, the façade of the grand Royal Hotel that housed the Theatre Royal.

Marmaduke gave a hoot of delight.
My God! Barnett Levey actually did it! Against all odds he's achieved his dream. Built our first professional theatre!

He remembered his excitement as a youth, that June day in 1827, a witness to the celebration that drew an even larger crowd than a public hanging – the laying of the foundation stone for Barnett Levey's entrepreneurial vision, a lavish 1000-seat theatre.

Today, Marmaduke saw the windmill on the top of Sydney's tallest building as a symbol of the penal colony's growing wealth and culture. He knew Sydney's first purpose-built theatre was only flourishing due to the liberal policies of Governor Bourke, who had overturned his autocratic predecessor's veto of Levey's theatrical licence. Hungry for culture, all levels of Sydney society rejoiced in the young actor-manager's victory. But it had come at great cost to Levey's health and finances.

Thank God the convict class can now enjoy Shakespeare under the same roof as the Quality, no longer segregated by Darling's ban on social contact between bond and free. I reckon the Bard of Avon must be smiling in Heaven to see his groundlings in the pit booing
Richard III
and weeping over
Romeo and Juliet.

Marmaduke decided he would support the new theatre by hiring a private box for the season. But he reminded himself he had not returned to the Colony merely to continue his pursuit of pleasure and adventure.

He hurried down to his chambers to change into appropriate clothing to launch himself into Colonial Society. Today was a red-letter day. The prime reason for his return to New South Wales was to lay claim to the inheritance his father had withheld from him.

Checking his appearance in the full-length mirror Marmaduke was pleased by the immaculate cut of his Savile Row tailcoat and trousers but frustrated by his usual battle – the art of keeping the wings of his shirt collar high enough to be fashionable yet just low enough to be free to turn his head.

What a bloody stupid fashion. I'd ring Beau Brummel's neck if he hadn't long gone to God!

He tied back his long, dark mane of hair in a ponytail that made him look like an eighteenth century pirate – a style that had intensely irritated his father and was reason enough for Marmaduke to refuse to have it shorn off in order to become a ‘real man' in his father's eyes. His Currency-style long hair was an indelible part of his identity.

You failed in your quest to make a man of me in your own image, Father, but I'm my own man now. A hybrid. The outward appearance of an English gentleman, thanks to London tailors, but I've retained the native-born Currency traits you tried to eliminate.

Marmaduke surveyed his reflection critically as he assumed a rapid series of poses impersonating different types of Englishmen – an effete Regency dandy, a pompous government official, a fiery Whig orator making his maiden speech, a jaded libertine confident of his prowess of seduction, finally assuming to the cocksure stance of a Currency Lad.

In Europe he had had no need to impersonate an English gentleman. Arriving as a naive Colonial, he had camouflaged his embarrassing status of virginity by a reverse show of confidence, making no attempt to disguise his Australian accent and swaggering like an adventurer into the drawing rooms of the gentry. To his great surprise he discovered that delightful English trait – the acceptance of eccentricity. Wherever he went he was feted as something of a novelty, like a rare Antipodean plant plucked from a hothouse in Kew Gardens. When invited to house parties on country estates, he rode and hunted with gentlemen, was careful to avoid young virgins but charmed older matrons and widows, discreetly entering Society via the bedroom door.

A flock of sulphur-crested cockatoos alighted on the balcony, railing and squawked in chorus. Marmaduke had a vivid memory of his beautiful mother's wicked smile as she taught her tame cockatoo, Amaru, the phrases designed to infuriate Garnet.

Marmaduke smiled at this rare happy childhood image as he grabbed his top hat, gloves and cane and made for the door, intent on visiting the only two real friends he had in the whole colony. One was Josiah Mendoza, the elderly watchmaker who had found him
distraught and broke after fleeing the Gamble mansion, Bloodwood Hall, and had given him bed and board and taught him some tricks of the jewellery trade.

Thank God for the lucky night at the gaming tables that enabled me to become his silent partner in our jewellery store.

Marmaduke's other old friend, Edwin Bentleigh, despite being a member of the two species Marmaduke distrusted most – a barrister and an Englishman – was a man he would entrust with his life.

With good reason. Edwin's already saved me from the gallows.

George Street was swarming with all levels of society. Elegant carriages fought for access between lumbering bullock-drays, chaises and carts loaded with farm produce. As Marmaduke crossed the road to gain a closer look at the exterior of the Royal Hotel, his passage was blocked by the crowd drawn to a procession. Marching behind a red-coated military band, by whose uniforms he recognised as the 17th Leicestershire Regiment, was a body of Freemasons dressed in full regalia complete with gold braid, medallions and painted Masonic aprons. But the true catalyst for the carnival mood of the crowd was an open landau carriage drawn by white horses.

The sole woman passenger waved her gloved hand like some Hanoverian queen acknowledging the motley throng of subjects running beside her carriage, shouting out their adulation and raining her with rose petals.

Who is she? Some European aristocrat dethroned by a revolution? Who knows? I've been isolated from world news for near three months at sea.

The answer became clear when Marmaduke caught individual cries of ‘Bravo!', and a bold Cockney voice that demanded, ‘Sing for us, darlin'!'

BOOK: Ghost Gum Valley
2.33Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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