Onwards to Melbourne, where we were booked into another top floor suite at the Hyatt on Collins. The panoramic view of the docks and Port Philip Bay prompted more of Peter’s youthful memories. As he waxed lyrical, I was reminded of an Australian novel I’d read around the same time, Down by the Dockside, by Criena Rohan, published – I believe posthumously – in 1963. She tells the story of a young girl living by the docks in Melbourne during the war. I loved that book and still have it, a beat-up old paperback held together with sticky tape. She wrote about ships and seafarers, and a tough, working class life, with a kind of first-hand honesty that spoke to me – and I’ve never been able to part with it.
Again, several radio and newspaper interviews were scheduled, going out to points all over the country. After much the same in Sydney, by the last appointment at 5:00 pm in Melbourne, I felt like a record, spouting the same words in answer to virtually the same questions firing at me for four solid days. That small insight into celebrity set me wondering how stars and public figures cope, dealing with it on a regular basis.
Next day was much easier. Jenny Carew, who had been doing research on my behalf, joined us for coffee in the hotel. While I’d been typing away at Liam’s Story in York, giving just a sketchy impression of his time in Australia, Jenny was sifting through archives in the State Library. She’d unearthed articles on farming, logging, and the development of small towns in Victoria at the turn of the 20th century. And – the hot issue of August 1914 – she’d found pictures of young volunteers marching through the city of Melbourne to their first training camp at Broadmeadows.
My brief had been rather vague, but the thick bundle of photocopies looked to be just the thing. I was sure I’d find my background here, and was immensely thankful for the work she’d done. She was a very pleasant lady, and afterwards we enjoyed a walk together in the shady grandeur of Melbourne’s Fitzroy Gardens.
She asked about our connection with Whitby. We explained that Peter’s cottage was just above the site of the shipyard where Captain Cook’s ships had been built. ‘Although the old shipyard is gone now,’ Peter said, ‘lost to land reclamation and the railway…’
His words tailed away as we noticed a tiny stone-built cottage with a red pan-tiled roof facing us across a broad swathe of green. The style, distinctly that of the North York Moors, looked completely out of place – what was it doing here in Melbourne?
Jenny Carew gave a knowing smile. ‘As you’re from Whitby,’ she said, ‘I thought you’d like to see Captain Cook’s cottage – but I didn’t realise how closely you were connected…’
Bought, dismantled and shipped out from Great Ayton in 1933 to mark a hundred years of settlement in the State of Victoria, the cottage with its pocket-handkerchief garden seemed Lilliputian amongst the park’s great trees, which were dwarfed in turn by a backdrop of high-rise office blocks.
We went inside, Peter introducing himself as the Harbourmaster from Whitby to the astonished person on the ticket desk. It was amusing but weird. I felt disoriented, like Alice through the Looking Glass, where everyone and everything is in opposite places. But for all its incongruity, Captain Cook’s family home struck me as symbolic, not just of the vanished world it was meant to represent, but of an old, enclosed England set down in the vastness of Australia’s strange new continent.
An apt comparison when I looked at the trees and imagined the real Liam arriving here, feeling like Gulliver in the land of giants.