“Since I had no family left, I was free as air. I had heard there was some gold found in Gundagai, so I went out prospecting. It was hard work, and it took a while, but I finally had a strike. I got mine just before the start of the goldrush of ’51. Once old Ed Hargraves found a speck of gold at Bathurst, there were more diggers than ‘roos.”
I think I once had a book with a picture of a kangaroo. “Is a kangaroo kind of like a giant mouse?”
“Well, it’s more like a giant rabbit. Ya know, sheila, legend has it that when Captain Cook first landed in Australia, he and his crew saw strange animals hopping around. One fella walked up to the first aborigine he saw and said, “Hey, mate. What’s that thing over there?” as he pointed to a ‘roo. The aborigine said, “Kangaroo.” But that aborigine, he didn’t speak any English. Kangaroo means ‘I don’t understand you.’”
I never did find out whether he was having me on with this story.
“So did you come here before or after you died?” The light shifted as the sun was swallowed by dreary clouds. I would have sighed if I could have.
”Oh, before. I had plenty of cash after my find. I wanted to see my old home country. My old dad was always on about what a beautiful place it was, even after everything they did to him. So, I came here to have a look ’round. I started in Dublin, so I put most of my money in the Bank of Ireland there. I carried a hundred pounds or so with me for expenses.” I patted Brownie again. He seemed to take it as a cue to get up and trot away.
”When I arrived in Ireland, it was just at the end of potato famine. Seemed all of my rellies had either died or taken off for America. Ireland was a terrible sad place at the time. So many had died or left that there was hardly anybody around to tend the sick and bury the dead. Lots of folk were just left where they had fallen. When I went back to Dublin, I gave a tidy sum to the Society of Friends. They seemed to be doing the most good to help feed the starving.
“Then I went on another walkabout. It wasn’t too far from here that I got robbed of me money and belongings.”
“That’s terrible!” Were there ghosts of criminals floating around here, too?
“Yeah, but they were starving and desperate. I thought ‘No worries!’ I had plenty of money in the bank-o, and if I could make it back to Galway, everything would be right as rain.”
Beagan was a lot more forgiving than I would have been.
Beagan told me he’d wandered around for hours without seeing a living soul. “I thought I could just backtrack and get back to Galway, where I had me money in the Bank of Ireland. But I got bloody lost and turned around. I finally saw this farmhouse and I knocked on the door. Place had been abandoned for some time. At least by the non-deads. I stayed here a while – there was an old kitchen garden with a few things still struggling to grow in it. One night I was sitting by the hearth. I had a terrible squeezing pain in my chest and I couldn’t breathe. I passed out. Next thing I knew, it was day. I felt fine and got up. It took a while for me to realize that I had carked it. It wasn’t until I saw a rat running by with a piece of me shirt that I thought something was up.”
I wondered if that was worse or better than going to your own funeral.