Old grazier George arrives from his outback station hauling an Irishman’s thirst for his shearer’s cheque. Cashing in at the ‘Royal’, cool ale scours dust accumulated in the woolshed.
Stumbling upstairs, heart hammering and breathless, he retires.
Woolly with sleep in the early hours, he believes he is home. Driven by thirst and mistaking a window for the door, he unexpectedly finds the hotel’s yard some twenty feet below.
Alerted by his shattered left leg, death hovers, waiting. After a few painful days mustered by diabetes and heart disease, he’s shepherded to the long paddock.
The coroner records ‘accidental misadventure’.
In spare moments I enjoy delving around in historical records. From the internet, skipping through time and place via the rich repository of scanned newspapers in Australia’s National Library TROVE collection.
Articles from bygone ages, when television was non-existant, make for an interesting read. The major metropolitan articles are often prefaced with “from our own correspondent” and “by telegraph” in the days when the buzz of communication by electric wire and next-day reporting was new and exciting.
They elicit the early sensations of ‘exclusive’ scoops and the ‘latest news’ bylines. The geographic distribution of a story also becomes apparent, trickling from the urban populations to the smallest communities in remote localities, and back again.
Sometimes I resort to a spatial image to find the out-of-the-way. Locating the remaining markers of a village: the worn timber buildings dotted between iron windmills; a brick chimney and fireplace standing solitary in a paddock; the unused railway tracks at an old intersection; a roadside dry-stone wall, shadows on verandahs. Some government-built red brick structures were built to outlive the original roles as railway stations and post offices where one-prolific ceramic cups perching atop a wooden post on cross bars that held the tension of strands in the information spider-web. Sharing and gathering. Distributing and dissecting. Little was missed.
Snippets of news from across the country garnish newspaper columns. Some are ongoing juicy morsels, serialized from salacious divorce cases in the courts. Others merely short-lived statements. A person’s fate and method of passing briefly illuminated in print.
There is a continuing fascination with the unusual and the tragic. Then, as now, death and the manner of its visitations consumed a disproportionate interest. People passed on from this realm in both foreign and familiar ways. Grown men in drunk arguments, disputes between workers, the discharge of a firearm whose bullet ricocheted, startled horses and insecure loads, snakebite, brutal work sites, machinery like chaff cutters that were never designed to preventative standards. The tragic deaths of children visited by what are now vaccine preventable disease, or drowning in local waterways, doctors too far away and post-operative infection common. Women succumbed to domestic traumas, of childbirth, clothing catching fire from the kitchen hearth, scalding water, abusive spouses, and less rarely the ravages of bushfires. More unusual, the tornado that tears apart a homestead as the family sits down to Christmas dinner. The flood that tears the world apart, or the acts of depressive suicides. Disaster spreads like a scattering of confetti, waymarking the tortured growth of a country.
My small offering above is based on an act in 1903 by George Frew, a grazier of Belfast stock who lived long enough post-flight to make a statement to the police attributing his accident to sleep-walking at the Royal Hotel in Orange, New South Wales. One of the articles destined for the metropolital readership headlined with the word ‘somnambulist’, which itself suggests a healthy literacy level amongst the readership.
Fall Through a Window
George Frew, of Central station, Cobar, early last Friday walked out of a window at the Royal Hotel, Orange, and fell and fractured his thigh and kneecap. He was admitted to a private hospital, where he died yesterday of diabetes and heart disease. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article44354635
Fatal Mistake. Orange, Thursday. The death occurred last night, in the private hospital, of Mr. George Frew, of Central station, Cobar. Deceased met with a serious accident last Friday morning. He walked out of a window on the first floor of the Royal Hotel by mistake, and falling to the ground suffered a double fracture of the left thigh, and a multiple fracture of the left kneecap. An examination by the doctor showed him to be suffering from diabetes and disease of the base of the heart. Death was accelerated by the accident. Deceased was 72 years old. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article98765544
Mention of George’s final flight made an appearance in the following papers: Goulburn Evening Penny Post; The Cobar Herald; Newcastle Morning Herald & Miners’ Advocate; Evening News (Sydney – several mentions over different days); The Sydney Morning Herald (on successive days); The Argus (Melbourne); Australian Town and Country Journal (NSW); Barrier Miner (Broken Hill); The Dubbo Liberal and Macquarie Advocate; Queanbeyan Age; Albury Banner and Wodonga Express; Western Champion (Parkes NSW)l and The Australasian (Melbourne).
Copying was clearly a normal procedure as some of these asked for the Irish (Belfast) newspapers to copy the announcement, presumably for the benefit of his relatives there.
The final chapter was a more comprehensive coronial inquiry report that finalised George’s existence more thoroughly than one who died of old age on a remote outback sheep station would otherwise have had.
A magisterial inquiry was held during the week concerning the death of George Frew, grazier, of Central station, Cobar, who on Friday morning was found in the yard of the Royal Hotel suffering from serious injuries buying fallen from one of the windows. The evidence was to the effect that the deceased, who was 72 years of age, arrived by the mail train from Cobar on Thursday night, intending to spend a few days in Orange. He engaged an upstairs room at the Royal Hotel, and went to bed at an early hour. At 2 a.m., he fell from the bedroom window to the ground, and from his statement subsequently, it appeared that he was under the impression that he was at home, where his bedroom window opened level with the ground. His left thigh was broken in two places and he sustained other injuries. A verdict of accidental death was re turned. http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article112277510
As an aside, the Royal Hotel, Orange NSW was initially established as the Wellington Hotel in the late 1850’s, and was the first two storied hotel in Orange. The name was changed to the Royal Hotel about 1881. The hotel also served as the booking office for Cobb & Co coaches.