Everyone in Australia knows (and probably loves) Dr Lucas’ Papaw ointment, in its iconic red tub. Great for chapped lips. But did you know that Dr Lucas was also a bit of a loony? His passion for pawpaw ran deep, including running a hospital devoted to the stuff in New Farm, Brisbane. His obsessions did not end at pawpaw, though. He also fancied himself a bit of a novelist, and wrote what is widely considered to be the first novel set in Brisbane. The novel, reportedly, is set in the year 2000, after Brisbane has been destroyed in a civil war between the Australian states. How did Brisbane come to lose the war? Because NSW, the dastardly lot, sent lady parachutists up into the skies above the city, and then shot us all while we were looking at their bloomers.
Well, that certainly got my attention. I set out to read the book …
The world is upside down. Every thinker acknowledges the fact. Everybody is dissatisfied and unhappy because it is so. All intelligent observers are satisfied that the world cannot be at rest until it is again righted, right side up. The question with the multitude is, “can it again be placed right side up.” (From the Preface, dated February 28, 1894)
In this post series, I’ll be summarising each chapter for you, starting, naturally, with …
Chapter I: A Sail up the Brisbane River
The book opens with our narrator, in a yacht, sailing the Brisbane River. He doesn’t know how he got there, but it also doesn’t seem to bother him too much. There’s an interesting story about “a sailor” getting drunk and passing out, but it’s almost immediately dismissed as irrelevant, because the narrator is a teetotaller.
He guesses that he is in Australia, due to the presence of a platypus, but notes that there are no people around (“Yes, I felt sure I was in Australian waters, but where were the Australians.”). Plenty of exposition about wildlife.
He meets another boat coming the other direction, with an American couple Mr and Mrs West. They, too, are wondering where all the people are. Mr and Mrs West have sailed in a small boat from the mouth of the Brisbane River, where they were dropped off by a steamer which “carried our sailing craft as a small parcel on board”.
The trio chat casually about Christians and Jews (as one does on a first meeting in a strange land), the scourge of Lantana (a pretty flowering plant that is a noxious weed in Queensland), and go ashore for a brief lunch.
Back in the boat (they seem to only have one now?), the narrator engages his new friends with the story of a dynamite storage facility that had previously existed in Brisbane, at great public expense. Apparently some dynamite had had to be exploded to dispose of it, terribly frightening the citizens, who were fairly certain the Russians were attacking. It was not so, but it brings us to the cliffhanger at the end of the chapter: Brisbane was destroyed in the Australian Civil War, with the Battle of Lytton the site of the last stand.
For someone who can’t remember how he came to be in a boat, he can certainly remember a lot of Brisbane history.
Keep reading … Chapter 2: Adventure & Reminiscences