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Friday, April 15, 2011

65. Barry, 3 months

The inscription of the back of the photograph reads ‘Barry, 3 months’. In all likelihood the photograph was taken on Saturday, September 11, 1943. There are two people in the photo itself. The man was in his 38th year at the time. He is dressed for a special occasion; he is wearing his Sunday Best suit. Most people would guess that he came from an Italian background; there’s something about his build, his face, his suit and tie that suggest this.

He looks a little uncomfortable. Ill at ease. Perhaps it is in part because this simple man feels out of place in a suit. He is an unskilled labourer who left school at the age of 14, in 1919, unable to read or write. For years he had been ‘kept down’. When he left St. Fidelis Catholic school in 1919 he was still in Grade 5. That must have been a heavy burden to bear, being 14 and illiterate, and surrounded by 10 and 11 year old who could both read and write. In September 1943 Australia was at war, but this man had been deemed unsuitable for service in the army, because of his flat feet. He was working, at the time, at Davis and Coop, a brick works in Brunswick . A year or so later he would change jobs, move to a factory in Macauley, a rabbit works, where he would spend his days gutting and skinning rabbits.

Working class men, like him, unskilled and poorly educated, rarely wore suits. Suits came out of the wardrobe for special occasions: weddings, funerals, baptisms, confirmations, church on Sunday. And when they did, they smelt of moth balls. But he was not one for church on Sunday.

Nor was his older brother, Arthur, who held radical views, who was a socialist – and possibly a communist, though he denied it in his later years. He was a street orator in the war years, railing against conscription on street corners in the city of Melbourne and on the Yarra bank. Arthur – or Arturo, as he was named at birth - had also left school at 14, but was self educated, widely read in the works of Marx and Engels and Lenin, a man who spent the Saturday afternoons of his adolescent years in the aisles of Coles Book Arcade in the City of Melbourne, reading economics and literature and politics texts. Arthur was an avowed atheist, and his younger brother – the man in the photo – was a lapsed Catholic.

Unlike Ina, their younger sister, who never missed Mass, and who prayed two and three times a day, for an hour at a time, fingering her rosary beads and muttering ‘Hail Mary, mother of God, full of grace …’

The man in the photo holding the baby is Herbert Garibaldi Carozzi, son of Annibale Carozzi, an Italian jeweller and linguist who migrated to Australia via Berlin and London in the mid-late 1880s. Annibale met, and later married, Caterina Mazza. Caterina was the daughter of Gianni Mazza who had left his native city of Genoa, in northern Italy, in the early 1860s to travel to the Victorian goldfields, there to make his fortune. Or not, as it turned out.

He married a girl who had been born in Daylesford in 1852, a girl named Margaret Burnside. Margaret’s mother was Mary O’Leary, an Irish orphan girl from County Cork, who had been sent to the colony by the Catholic nuns during the worst Potato Famine in Ireland’s sorry history.

The 17 year old Mary O’Leary met 32 year old Alexander Burnside – Sandy as he was known – in Willaura in South Australia. Sandy was a wayward Scot, the son of a Glasgow doctor; he was an alcoholic ne’er-do-well who was said to drink half a pint of whisky a day, and who died of alcoholic debilitation at the age of 64, and laid to rest in the Presbyterian section of the Daylesford cemetery, beneath an imposing headstone. Mary outlasted him by 20 years or more, but lies buried in an unmarked grave in the Catholic section, with two other dead Catholics.

As Alexander approached death, so the story goes, Mary said to him, ‘Will you be buried in Catholic ground?’

‘No!’ he said. ‘I will lie at rest in Presbyterian soil.’

‘Then you shall sleep alone through eternity,’ Mary told him.

And so it was, and is. Their graves are 100 metres apart, separated in death – as in life – by their religious prejudices. And now by tons of dark, rich cemetery soil.

So Herbert was their grandson, and Annibale’s and Caterina’s son. He was born and raised and lived his whole life in Coburg and died there in 1989. In this photo, taken on September 11, 1943, he is smiling; but nervously, and looks ill at ease. Perhaps it is the suit, but I sense it is something more. He is holding his three month old son, but there is something not quite right; he looks uncomfortable, unpractised, as though he is unused to this business of holding a baby.

Nonetheless there is no doubting the simple joy, the happiness of this moment, for Herbert Garrie. He’s happy – no question. But look closely at the baby. Its eyes are wide, its mouth is open, and its look is one of … of what? Fear? Bewilderment? Or perhaps I am reading all of this into the photograph, spinning a story – as we are prone to do, we humans – from the flimsiest of information. Taking that trite old saying, that a ‘picture is worth a thousand words’, and romancing – getting carried away with the story. Extemporising. Seeing discomfort in the demeanour of the father, bewilderment – perhaps fear – in the eyes and facial expressions of the child.

How much can we glean from a single photograph, a snapshot. It is a long gone moment, this moment captured on light-sensitive celluloid sixty – almost seventy - year ago. Cameras don’t lie, they say; but they are not necessarily right. In this moment – it may have lasted for one-fiftieth of a second - the child seems to look confused, the father uncomfortable; but it may all be a trick of the eye, no more than a random moment in a day otherwise full of easy joy and happy smiles …

The photo ‘tells’ us little. It is the story teller who spins the yarn, who builds the narrative, who interprets the scene and makes of it what he will. It is the story teller who blends his knowledge of the back stories of these two ‘dramatis personae’ with the features of the photograph, to begin to tell the story of Barry, at three months, and the father, Herbert Garibaldi Carozzi – known variously as Garrie, Herbie, Uncle Garrie, Dad.

I’ve had that photograph since the late 1980s or early 1990s. Garrie died in 1989; his wife, Linda, in 1991. I found it in Linda’s glory box when I was cleaning out their house at 82 Reynard Street, Coburg, where they had lived since their marriage in 1936. I placed the photo in an album, to keep it as a relic. A sacred enough object. Yet I did not notice the inscription – ‘Barry, 3 months’ until sometime in mid-late September, 2009 – 66 years after the photo was originally taken.

Linda and Garrie were my mother and father. I lived with them all through my childhood, from 1943 until 1969, when I married. Linda Robina May Kipping was born on October 26, 1907, in Casterton in the Western District of Victoria. She lived in Hamilton for most of her childhood with Pop and Gran: William Charles Kipping, my grandfather, and Edith Kipping (nee Davis), my grandmother. Linda left Hamilton some time in the mid-late 1920s, and came to live in Melbourne, where she worked for ‘French, the dentist’ as a housekeeper and cook, and helped raise their two boys: Vincent and Ronnie, both of whom carried on the family business and themselves became dentists.

Linda was 29 and Garrie 31 when they married in 1936. I was born 7 years later. In the intervening years Linda had had several miscarriages and had given birth to a still born boy child, in 1941. The photo inscribed ‘Barry, 3 months’ is – to my knowledge – the earliest photograph of me, and the only one taken in my first year of life.

When I first noted the inscription, it was September 2009, 66 years after the photo was taken – almost to the day. At a time when those three words had suddenly become burdened with an almost unbearable weight of meaning. For in mid September 2009 the incredible significance of that simple inscription became explosively apparent.

It arrived like a message in a bottle, a scrap of information placed inside a bottle and thrown into the sea years before, and now amazingly washed ashore. What was it Eliot wrote?

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know the place for the first time.

The message, written in code, could now be decoded, and the world could never be quite the same – not for this little pebble on the beach, not for this little 3 month old babe, who 66 years on stares at this image of himself, and sees a stranger – a bewildered, fearful infant, held in the uncertain arms of a simple and loving man who felt, at that moment, out of his depth, not knowing quite how you do hold a child so young. Happy beyond measure, but overcome by the responsibility. And on that day in September, the bewilderment in my three month old eyes mirrored the sudden bewilderment in which I found myself at 66.

1 comment:

  1. First of all I want to share with you my first immediate impressions of the photograph, taken in my mind's eye before I read a word of this post. I saw and still see a loving man holding a baby boy who appears to be looking longingly at his mother (who I can only assume is standing alongside the photographer). Maybe I see this (and not what you see ) because I have my own photographs of my own babies being held by their fathers and reaching out with their eyes for me - their mother- as all babies do. Of course we will never know exactly what was happening in this moment, but unlike you, I see no sign of fear in the child's face (in fact the child looks perfectly contented with his arms coiled toward the father) and certainly no sign of a man out of his depth.... The expression on the child's face is familiar and perhaps because I have seen this face in times of both contentment and anger (yes you got mad a few times as my teacher), I feel strongly that you were contented and that like any child, your eyes were locked on the face of your mother. I do not think you are looking at the photographer because your father is facing the photographer and you are facing the other way. But your father looks so cute and proud and happy and there are no signs of tears from you, not even a frown or a scowl, just a look of recognition. It is your christening yes? A precious photograph Barry.