Letters From Yip Yip

Page 1

LETTERS

FROM YIP YIP John O’Donovan



LETTERS FROM YIP YIP

R The Sometimes Press Copyright © 2012


For Everyone

Letters from Yip Yip Transcribed and compiled by Bill O’Donovan Photographs by Visitors to Yip Yip Bonus Letter illustrations by Bill O’Donovan Copyright © John O’Donovan 1991 Published by The Sometimes Press 2012 PO Box 233 Thirroul, NSW 2515 Australia. The Sometimes Press asserts the right of John O’Donovan to be indentified as the author of this work.


LETTERS FROM YIP YIP John O’Donovan 1928-1992

From the Garret to the Gibbet Bonus Letters

Bumbaldy Goanna Nights


Yip Yip part one. Yip Yip, in the beginning.


Chapter 1

About halfway down the block south from the shed I came across a large flat stone which on close examination proved to be cut to shape by what must have been a small sharp pick. I’m always on the lookout for suitable stones and this one excited my interest. After shovelling away the accumulated bush refuse its measurements showed to be about six feet long by three feet wide. I was unable to ascertain its depth as it was still buried in the ground. Digging down on the one side revealed the depth at that point to be around ten inches. There was no chance of lifting it by hand. With the aid of two crowbars I managed to raise it about a foot exposing to my great curiosity what appeared to be some type of cavity. At this stage it grew dark and began to rain heavily so I let the stone down again resolving to return the next day. Morning broke clear and crisp with a bright sun and I approached my discovery with some excitement. Using a series of logs and stones with the bars as levers I raised the stone from the cavity and pushed it partly to the side. The hole beneath appeared to be about two feet deep, or deeper perhaps as it seemed to be filled with a mixture of fine dust and decaying timber. I was reluctant to reach down into the dusty pit with its thick nettings of spider web. A nearby stick serving as a probe I began to poke and scrape at the thick dust. On contact with the stick the timbers instantly crumbled into the same fine powder that covered all therein. Not wishing to completely destroy the timbers until I was properly able to peruse their nature I took a wheat bag and vigorously began to fan away the settled dust. My endeavour in this proved successful despite near suffocation from the powdery cloud, which rose around me. The timbers had


The dam. The dam.


been very rough cut but there was no doubt that they had once been fashioned into two crucifix crosses each about three feet and fastened in the centre by an iron spike. Summoning my courage I reached down into the dusty pit to lift one out. Having already perceived the fragility of the timber I tried to take the cross at the ends of the transom with both hands but my grasping fingers caused it to disintegrate. I reached for the spike and in doing so lost my balance and fell into the pit. Black panic gripped my heart and I clawed my way out like a kitten from a creek. Covered and choked by the resultant dust cloud I crouched beside the mysterious hole at Yip Yip. Remaining thus immobile for what must have been a full minute. This hole was not entirely filled with dust for as I fell, in an endeavour to save myself I had thrust out my hands. Not more than a foot bellow the dusty surface lay a hard smooth plate and unless I was in error this plate was of metal. The sun had by this attained his noon and that is the signal for lunch at Yip Yip. This day I hurried back to the shed with no thought of eating but seized the shovel and tunnel-visioned, hastened back to the puzzle in the pit. First with the aid of the crowbars I removed the stone entirely from the opening. I then saw that both ends of the hole were fitted with large stones on which the slab had been resting and that the sides thereof were lined with a dry stone wall reminiscent of the fences built in the Kiama district. Taking up the shovel I suddenly felt a strange reluctance to use it and stood silent on its handle for a little while. Plunging the shovel blade into the dust I heard the sharp clang of metal on metal. That sound that is so alien in nature. A light breeze had begun among the nearby young She-oaks and shovelling the dust out of the hole was like working in a westerly at the Wollongong coal loader. As I shovelled it became clear that the metal did not cover the whole surface. In some places there was no metallic clang. The metal was indeed flat; oval shaped and appeared through the film of dust to have a studded rather than smooth surface. The removal of the dust left the metal object about three feet below the ground level and I encountered


Family delegation, inspects progress. Family delegation inspects the works.


difficulty in reaching down to grasp it but still hesitated to jump into the quicksand like dust that surrounded it. With the aid of a hoe and some bush sticks I was able to edge the plate up the wall to a position where I took hold of the ruin and lifted it out of the pit. Cradling the large metal disc in my lap I stared at it with the same eyes that must once have served within the tomb of Karnak1. Brass was the metal I scratched with a stone. Gold? I reasoned it to have served as a shield from the handle and the eyes welded to the obverse side. The studded slightly convex outer side bore some scoring and several dents. I spat on my shirttail and began to polish a place on the rear side, which looked to bear an inscription. This proved to be a slightly raised representation of a bunch of grapes. All else on the shield was smooth and unadorned. How long I sat gazing on my find and caressing it fondly I cannot say but I suddenly became aware of the coming night. The hole was open to the elements and it was a struggling task to replace the stone slab before the bush became black with the dark and I felt a little uneasy where I had never done so. Picking up my prize I sped back to the shelter of the shed. Hunger and fatigue diverted me from the shield until the morrow. I dreamt of Horatius2. Next day I dropped two wet potato bags onto the dust in the pit and gingerly stepped down onto them. Although there was still a great deal of dust, these seemed to form a sound base on which to stand. I began to feel around in the dust and my fingers soon contacted something sharp. I pulled it up already knowing it to be a sword. Three feet long and glistening even through the ubiquitous dust this brother to Excalibur came up in my hands and I at once became Harry at Harfleur3. Grasping the hilt with both hands I swept the blade in a wide arc crying to all at Yip Yip, - “For God, Harry and St. George” - and offering block the wall up with the English dead. Laying the magnificent weapon carefully on the ground, I turned to scrabble in the dust and raised a brass helmet, God!, still with the skull inside. Hamlet reacted differently to me as I rose from the hole like a Harrier 1 Karnak, massive Ancient Egyptian temple complex 2 Horatius fabled defender of Rome – withstood the Etruscan invaders with only his sword and shield. 3 KING HENRY V. SCENE I. France. Before Harfleur. “Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English dead.”


Shed in progress. The shed progresses.


jet, but my avaricious soul made me not drop the helmet and I landed with the skull well held. As I stared back into the pit where I knew the balance of a decapitated skeleton must lie I managed to regain my presence of mind and turned to an examination of the helmet and its grisly content. The helmet was rounded with a metal flap at the rear to cover the neck. There was no visor but rather a small peak not unlike that on a British Sergeant Majors cap, but in brass. It was rimmed all round by a brass brim which turned up both back and front, quite heavy, probably weighed four or five pounds. The skull, which I did not remove, prevented looking inside. My thoughts flew to suits of armour and what else might lie within the dust besides he bones of the one time shield bearer. Unable to bring myself to probe about among what must be a dust covered skeleton, I replaced the stone cover and returned to the shed. Sleep without the Reschian4 impetus would have been impossible. Further digging did not bring forth bones nor breastplates, broadaxes or bucklers5. All that remained in the hole was dust, save where standing on end in a corner an earthenware pipe rested against the stones. This pipe was roughly four feet long and both ends were plugged with clay. A shield, a sword, a helmeted skull and a pottery pipe. What unknown and unseen hand and after what unmeasured years. Surely the helmet looked Spanish? Perhaps the sword was from Toledo? Only the shield bore any inscription and that a bunch of grapes. Wine was popular in Spain. I took up a hammer and chisel and began to prise the clay from the pipe I hesitated mindful of once read fragility of old relics. Archaeologists, historians and their ilk would be appalled that I should carry on alone, or even not have informed them on first lifting the stone. What trendoid hordes would then have descended on Yip Yip and destroyed it, carrying off its tranquillity with its treasures. I emptied the pipe of its contents. Four long brass plates each say four inches wides and thirty inches long. They bore various markings all of which seemed disjointed and lacking significance. A veritable jigsaw which when eventually correctly 4 5

Reschs Pilsener, a preferred beverage at Yip Yip. Buckler, a small shield, 15-45cm, gripped in the fist.


The shed, keep, pier and full dam. The shed, keep and jetty, with full dam.


fitted together formed a map, inscribed in a Latin language, which I took to be Spanish. When turned over the plates displayed a long text in Latin. How I now lamented my deplorable ignorance. The plates gave up no knowledge to me. English alone was my medium. Yet my sanity would surely not be safe should I not solve the secrets salvaged from the dusty Yip Yip pit. Any translator would need to be truly trustworthy. University professors would be far too intrusive. Spanish steelworkers probably not sufficiently competent. Paella pushers are restaurateurs, notoriously fly. To highlight the inscription on the plates I rubbed black boot polish into the engravings and took them to Goulburn where I photocopied them individually. Joined together, the Photostats were quite a good reproduction of both the map and the text.


The map.



The dunny. Dunny


Chapter 2

There is a disused Catholic church on a high hill in Bungonia, built from stone by early Irish pioneers. It has been my habit to call there quite often because of my interest in the cruder type of stone building. On one of these visits I was a little surprised to find another there. A tall angular awkward looking individual with a pointed steel grey beard jutting out of a dark aquiline face fitted with two piercingly intent black eyes. His left hand held a long pointed pole. He approached me in a curiously imperious yet courteous manner bowed slightly and introduced himself as Francisco Garcia SJ, a priest who had fallen from grace with his flock. Here a short fat roughly bearded person came from around the side of the church. Garcia introduced him as Santa Anna his servant and assistant. The gaunt faced Jesuit began to address me in a long rambling fashion, his voice sometimes rising like a La Stupenda, while the fat assistant stood mute and motionless staring fixedly into the Bungonian bushland. Here was a Quinella that failed to cover the field. The priest knew Spanish for much of his dissertation I recognised to be so. Could he serve as a trusty translator of brass plates? Would his translation be trustworthy? Suddenly the fat acolyte called loudly and pointing excitedly across the paddocks drew his masters’ attention entirely from me. Garcia dropped the long pole and began to write in a thick black book, which he drew from his pocket. Santa Anna seized the pole and moved it at different angles as the priest took unintelligible bearings from its position.


The keep. The keep.


When they had finished the flockless shepherd turned to me with a smile of satisfaction that stretched across the tightened parchment of his face. Another one, he gloated and explained to me that he and his assistant were engaged in locating all the windmills in the district with the intention of attacking them at the first opportunity. They were staying at the abandoned presbytery in Bungonia and would be delighted to have me to dinner that night. I accepted with some trepidation. Dinner with Don Quixote Garcia SJ consisted of an enormous circular and partly mouldy cheese, some bottles of dark red wine and several oddly shaped loaves of bread. I had brought my photostats of the brass plates with me but the interminable addresses delivered by my host had given me no chance to produce them. The wine was greatly depleted and the hour growing late. The Spanish priest fell silent and I set myself to speak. To my chagrin Santa Anna, who had sat silent all night suddenly broke into something akin to a high pitched Georgian chant to which Garcia listened so intently and with such a rapturous expression on his bony countenance that I grew uneasy in the odd company. Garcia raised his hand and the fat servants incantations ceased. My host turned his bright black eyes to me. Now what of thee, he inquired charmingly. After some little talk I took the photostats of the Latin text from my pocket and enquired about translation. Garcia showed great interest in the Latin, took up a sheet of paper and a pencil stub and wrote out his translation of the text with only occasional hesitation. Dominus Vobiscum he murmured as he handed me the paper. Anti-climax is derived from the Latin and that is what this was. Most of the script translated into a liturgy extolling the virtues of the Spanish Royal Family. The final passages called on God and the said royal family to use their best offices to secure repose for the soul of one Donna Clothilde y Zoragoso Bahia Blanca wife to the bearer, Don Fuente, liege to Philip of Spain. There followed the words Lupo Grande, which Garcia said translated as Big Wolf and could be the name of a ship. Garcia to my surprise made no enquiry of my interest in the text and this prompted me to draw out the Photostat of the map. Surely this


The vineyard.


would hold some morsel to compensate for the dry disappointment of the translated text. The priest who had fallen from grace with his flock studied the map in a surprisingly systematic style. No irrational windmill tilting behaviour was in evidence as he raised a professional eyebrow and beckoned me to him. The long bony forefinger stabbed the ornate device in the left hand corner of the photostat. This he translated as a representation of the arms of the Governor of Peru bearing the date, January 1677. The Spaniards had left Lima in January that year bound for Cadiz. A terrible tempest had demasted the Lupo Grande and they had drifted westwards to be wrecked on a savage coast. Don Fuente resolved to walk overland to Spain believing he was wrecked on the east coast of Africa. From the landing point Don Fuente kept to a northwest course but as you can see from the enclosed map, failed to reach Spain. We have no knowledge of the fate of his burial party but must assume they also perished in the harsh unwelcoming terrain. I have deliberately omitted a certain section of Don Fuentes map. Suffice to say that I am in possession of a number of round-mouthed shovels. Should you wish to call on me at Yip Yip I would be pleased to acquaint you with the missing portion. You might bring with you an empty drawstring purse such as Kubla Kahn’s Grand Vizier was want to carry. Father Francisco Garcia now has his own cathedral in the uplands beyond Yip Yip. He and his assistant have occasionally caused interruption to the nations power supply. Neither of them enjoys good eyesight and they sometimes mistake the giant rotors of the Snowy Mountains power Authority for that which they are not. Good Luck.

John O’D


Thinking action. Thinking in action.


YIP YIP Two Bonus Letters



YIP YIP May 1991 Urgent Keith & Marg, This is a photograph of a kangaroo who has escaped from Yip Yip. He is considered to be dangerous and believed to be heading for Ayers Rock. If you should see him would you please let me know, or ring Joy. He answers to the name of Bumbaldy. Good Luck. John O’D



YIP YIP 27/10/91 Dear Friends, This is a letter from Yip Yip where presently there is a great thunderstorm raging. The sky is full to the very edges with sheet upon sheet of brilliant blue lightning and the following heavily loaded rolls of thunder. Outside the shed crowded together and crawling heedlessly upon each other are dozens of black and yeller goannas all seeking shelter from the incessant rain and horrible din. Watching their sharp and wispy tongues whipping in and out of lipless mouths I cannot bring myself to allow them in, although their leader has assured me that they would be happy to be under the bed. His name is Tabbott1 and he watches me so closely with his shiny little eye that I fear I cannot trust him. Therefore I have locked them out and although I can hear the rustling of their long scaly bodies slithering backwards and forwards along the verandah drenched as they are in the constant downpour I believe that they would not have been satisfied unless I had allowed them into the bed. You will understand that this would be something I could not welcome and so I have kept the door firmly secured against them. Good Luck. John O’D 1 This name has been changed for currency – originally featured in a number of variations of the letter were Sam Hadhussaym and Farkell.


Plaintive Duck

John O’Donovan


Supper

John O’Donovan


R The Sometimes Press