Hallam Courteney, respected gentleman of independent means, is among the
tens of thousands to welcome the Prince of Wales and his entourage in
the Domain but his life takes a turn for the bizarre when a poor
young man, Jimi Jenkins, attempts to pick his pocket. Both men have a
secret that could land them in jail, especially when they commit an
indecent act that is against the law. The deed has been witnessed by a
well-dressed stranger who turns up at Hallam’s door, not for blackmail
but to exhort his help against a plot to assassinate the visiting
I can’t say that I was pleased to be back in Sydney. It had changed so
little since I left five long years ago, except the streets were now
festooned with flags and bunting for the Prince of Wales’s forthcoming
visit. The Town Hall and many of the city’s main buildings, including
the grand façade of Her Majesty’s Theatre on Market Street, were
illuminated in tribute to a fine soldier who was touring the world to
thank we Antipodeans for our invaluable help in winning the war.
Only too glad to be part of that help, I had enlisted in 1915, seeing
action on the battlefields of a devastated Europe, the final resting
place of men of all nations. It took me years to free myself from the
guilt of coming through the bloodbath unscathed while so many worthier
men lost their lives, their eyesight, their limbs or, more
frighteningly, their minds.
Anything would be dull, boring, and commonplace after the experience of
war, which is why so many men find it difficult to adjust in what is
laughingly referred to as civilisation. While we toiled and killed on
the front lines, the men and their supporting women back home lived
their lives as before with scant regard for the numbers of dead piling
up. We were fighting for their entitlement and they didn’t have the
courtesy to even curtail their conspicuous lifestyles while we fed our
cold, shivering bodies on bully beef and barbecued rats. If we hadn’t
eaten the vermin they would have eaten us.
Sometimes, I could almost believe the anarchists’ cry, ‘Eat the rich.’
Would you consider me so very unpatriotic if I said I missed the Mother
Country? It seemed to me that London presently was the very centre of
the universe, excitement at its very core from its eating establishments
to its night life to…well, time enough for that. It was where I
discovered Hallam Courteney is not like other men. To be precise, he’s
not like most other men. That much will become obvious as my tale
Sydney, much as I loved her, was a parochial backwater in comparison.
Not that the people who lived here made much of the two cities’
similarities and differences. No, most people were happy in their own
comfortable little garden patch. However, I am not most people.
The only glimmer to my ennui was the visit of Edward, Prince of Wales.
By God, that got the blood pumping in my veins. We soldiers liked the
man; we liked the cut of his jib, the way he mucked in with the men. We
named him the ‘Digger Prince’ for his down-to-earth, no nonsense
approach, not like some of the foolishness the snobbish upper classes
get up to in England. It helped considerably that the man was fashioned
in the image of the angels. It wasn’t just me that thought so.
He was to land at the stone steps in Farm Cove, the small bay surrounded
by the trees and shrubs of the city’s spacious grassed Governor’s
Domain, adjacent to the exotic blooms of the Sydney Botanic Gardens
which had suffered a shortage of workers owing to the call-up for the
Great War. It was only now beginning to look its best in tribute, I
liked to think, to our future monarch.