From “Grandpa’s Story” by Shirley Dean
In 1874 my grandfather John Evans walked up the gangplank and stepped onto the dock in Brisbane, Australia. After three and half months at sea, his legs were feeling unsteady and he looked for something to hold on to. The Immigration Agent, Mr Gray, had cleared all the passengers on board the Darling Downs the day before so he was free to find his trunk and go. He tilted his hat back on his head and wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand.
For the last three and a half months, he had listened to the sounds of the wind in the sails, the ocean swell and the sea birds. Now horns, whistles, bells and shouts filled the air and made his ears ring. The river was Brisbane’s lifeblood. Barges lumbered past, loaded with logs, coal and farm produce. The mail boat chugged in to unload its mailbags, jostling with steamers for room at the dock. Tiny skiffs darted in and out like dragonflies in the steamy air.
He looked for his trunk in the luggage pile. As he reached for it, a lad only a few years younger than him grabbed it.
“Looking for a place to stay, sir?” the boy asked. John nodded. “Follow me then,” he said, heaving the trunk onto his back and heading off through the gate at the back of the dock.
Out on the street, John’s eyes hurt. Everything looked gaudy, almost vulgar in the brilliant light. Buildings, people, horses and carts, trees and grass all had a wild and unfamiliar look, like something newly born and not yet sure of what it would become. He was used to how the soft Irish light bathed the landscape of his homeland. Here, colours clashed and jarred under the hot sky.
He had to walk quickly to keep up with the lad. Down the road they headed, past the Gas Works and Mr John Petrie’s Monumental Works, past the Post Office, past Mrs Beazley’s Fruit and Pie Shop, past the Congregational Church and a group of grubby boys playing cricket on the street.
They pulled up at a boarding house in Alice Street. John gave the boy a penny and dragged his trunk up the stairs. The front room was cool and dark. Mrs Lennon, the landlady, was sitting behind a desk fanning herself. He paid a deposit for a room at the back, which he decided would do while he got his bearings. As she handed over the key, Mrs Lennon asked, “Irish?” John nodded.
“From whereabouts?” she asked.
“Doneraile, County Cork,” he said, feeling a lump in his throat at the sound of the words.