by Lisa Lewis and George Kieffer)
|notes on the text|
The story of “A Friend of the Family” is a comedy, but it is linked in the minds of teller and listeners, all ex-service men, with memories that are serious enough. Wherever possible, however, these are tilted a little towards the ridiculous or, at least, the odd, and the injustice of the exemption tribunal and its effects are made more tolerable by being seen, philosophically, as “the usual.” … As [Thomas Love] Peacock said, the worst thing is good enough to be laughed at; and Bevin, thinking of the Queensland drover and the Buckinghamshire market-gardener in his platoon, discussing sheep and blacks and glass and exemption tribunals, with “the men’s teeth chatterin’ behind their masks between rum-issue an’ zero,” exclaims: “Oh, there was fun in Hell in those days, wasn’t there, boys?”For Philip Mason:
This habit of thought and speech makes the occasional absolutely “straight” sentences more impressive, and these no longer carry the unmixed emotional overcharge we find in the early tales, but are cast in a more reflective mode. Before Bevin tells his tale, an allusion in talk to a bombed hollow near Thiepval causes him to remark that, the last time he saw the place, “I thought it ’ud be that way until Judgment Day,” and the great word Judgment, vibrating in the mind of the other speaker, diverts the conversation. [Quotes p. 306, lines 18-33; p. 307, lines 1-5]. This is the wide background for the retributory manoeuvres of Hickmot, the drover. They are a small queer, limited, marginal illustration of something fundamental in human nature, standing out uncompromisingly in the solitary man from the sheep station.
In “A Friend of the Family” (1924) revenge is complete and successful, but it is taken on behalf of someone else and by a man who, as is continually insisted, is not quite like other people, having lived in the northern parts of Australia, among sheep and aborigines, and having never seen “a table-cloth, a china plate, or a dozen white people together” till he was thirty.