Sunday, May 12, 2013

Belonging Related Text - Berla Hill

Berla Hill council chambers were nestled on the top of the hill, overlooking the town of the same name. The recently built stone building was unlike any other in town as the rest of the public buildings were made of wood. Members of the council chambers assured the community that the building was the most splendid addition to our fine town and that the extra levies on our council fees we were forced to pay was our civic responsibility. The council chambers was unique in that as well as containing a ballroom temporarily available for mass until the new church was built, there was a centre for youth to drop in at their leisure.  The centre also provided activities and programs specifically designed to keep the youth of today entertained and off the streets. The councillors also hoped that the days of random markings, symbolic of delinquent youth behaviour, all over the town hall and courthouse were well and truly past for our most gracious city. 
The council chambers were scheduled to be opened for business on the 16th of June 1850. It was expected that as well as prominent officials and businessmen in the community, mothers and their children of non-school age would also be in attendance. Since the burning of the church, it was our duty to support local families and promote community spirit in whatever way we could. Tea was to be served on the verandah on the south side of the building overlooking the river at half past 10 in the morning and proceedings would begin promptly in the ballroom half an hour later. 
Recently several small children had fallen ill, coughing sporadically and breaking out in a nasty rash.  When they died, the town broke with the tradition of the country and began burying these small children on the hill behind the chambers instead of the yard of the local church, which no one had bothered to get around to building yet. The councillors assured us that our beloved children were in safe hands and that as God-fearing Christians they would look after them in death as they had done in life. 
At the back of the chambers, at the bottom of the hill, sheep wandered aimlessly in the green pastures and the cattle slept under the scattered trees. An open drain, a feat of innovation we were told on account of the green sterilising liquid flushing out unwanted waste, ran from the council chambers down the dusty road to the river at the front, which ran along the bottom of the hill through to the main part of town some 500 metres  below. The local children would strip off naked and paddle in the cool water at the bottom of the hill on a warm summer’s day. As a child, my brother and I had swum there daily in the summer months. It was our only relief from the heat. Since the opening of the council chambers all that has changed. The children began to avoid the area from that day forward, even though it is the deepest part of the river and you can jump off the rocks on the side into the water without fear of hitting the bottom. The lack of life caused a slimy film to grow over the water and our fine city. 
On the grand opening day, during Councillor Fraser’s glorious speech in the heady heat about the benefits of community spirit and the value of a solid work ethic, a strange smell like rotten eggs wafted through the proceedings, distracting the usually attentive constituents. A councillor rose from his chair to close the windows, stifling the listeners even more.  A young boy from a neighbouring farm slipped from his mother’s arms to go to his father, so she thought, but instead the boy made his way down the dusty road to the river. While we coughed and congratulated ourselves on the generous contributions we had made to the building of the council chambers, the boy disappeared into the river. 
As the body was dragged over the rocky bank up onto the grass where a large group of people looked on furtively, the boy’s skin sizzled like a sausage, and I temporarily presumed he must still be alive. Burials resumed in the churchyard after that day.
Shelley McNamara

No comments: