By: Colleen McCullough


Harry Markham and his crew arrived on the job at exactly seven o'clock that Friday morning. Harry and his foreman Jim Irvine sitting inside the pickup cabin and Harry's three men in the open back of the truck, perched wherever they could find a level space for their behinds. The house they were renovating lay on Sydney's North Shore in the suburb of Artarmon, just behind the spreading desolation of the brick pits. It was not a big job, even for a small-time builder like Harry; merely covering the red brick bungalow with stucco and adding a sleep-out to the back veranda, the kind of job Harry welcomed from time to time « because it filled in the gaps between larger contracts.

The weekend promised heat and endless sun, if Friday morning was any indication; the men piled out of the pickup grumbling among themselves, plunged into the gloomy tree-shielded aisle of the side passage and shed their clothes without a twinge of self-consciousness or shame.

Changed into their work-shorts, they came round the back corner of the house just as the Old Girl was shuffling down the backyard in her faded pink chenille bathrobe, circa 1950, carefully carrying a gaudily flowered china chamber pot in both hands, her head a twinkling mass of tin butterfly hair wavers, also circa 1950. No new-fangled rollers for Mrs. Emily Parker, thank you very much. The yard slipped gradually into the maw of a gravelly clay canyon which had once been the source of a considerable number of Sydney's bricks; now it served as a convenient place for the Old Girl to empty her chamber pot every morning, for she clung doggedly to the habits of her rural origins and insisted on her potty at night.

As the contents of the pot flew in a solid-looking arc of pale amber toward the bottom of the brick pit, she turned her head and eyed the nearly naked men sourly.

"G'day, Miz Parker!" Harry called. "Oughta finish this today, I reckon!"

"And about bloody time, too, you lazy lot of bots!" the Old Girl snarled as she came slopping up the yard again, quite unembarrassed. "The things I have to put up with on account of youse! Miss Horton complained to me last night that her prize pink geraniums is all covered with cement dust, and her maidenhair fern got squashed flat when some useless coot buzzed a brick over her fence yestiddy."

"If Miss Horton's that prune-faced old spinster next door," Mick Devine muttered to Bill Naismith, "then I bet her bloody maidenhair didn't get squashed by a brick only yestiddy, it up and died years ago from no fertilizer!"

Still complaining loudly, the Old Girl disappeared inside with her empty chamber pot; a few seconds later the men heard the energetic sounds of Mrs. Emily Parker cleaning her chamber pot in the back veranda toilet, followed by the swoosh of the toilet cistern discharging and a sound of ringing china as the pot was hung on its diurnal hook above the more orthodox repository of human wastes.

"Jesus Henry, I bet the bloody grass is green down in that brick pit," Harry said to a grinning crew.

"It's a bloody wonder she ain't flooded it out long before now," Bill sniggered.

"Well, if youse asks me, she ain't the full quid," Mick said. "In this day and age and with two proper bogs in her house, she's still peeing into a guzunda."

"A guzunda?" Tim Melville echoed.

"Yeah, sport, a guzunda. A guzunda is the thing that guzunda the bed every night and that you always put your flaming foot in when you get up in a hurry," Harry explained. He looked at his watch. "The Ready-mix Concrete truck ought to be here any tick, I reckon. Tim, you get out the front and wait for it. Take the big wheelbarrow off the truck and start ferrying the mud back to us as soon as the blighter shows, okay?"

Tim Melville smiled, nodded, and trotted off.

Mick Devine, absently watching him go and still pondering on the vagaries of Old Girls, started to laugh. "Oh, struth! I just thought of a beaut! Listen, you blokes, at smoke-oh this morning you just follow my lead, and maybe we'll teach Tim a thing or two about guzundas and such-like."


Mary Horton screwed her long, very thick hair into its habitual bun on the back of her neck, thrust two more pins into it and eyed her reflection in the mirror without joy or sorrow, or indeed much interest. The mirror was a good one, and gave back her image without flattery or distortion; had her eyes been engaged in a more personal inspection they would have seen a short, rather stocky woman of early middle age, with white hair as colorless as crystal pulled cruelly away from a square but regular-featured face. She wore no make-up, deeming it a waste of time and money to pay homage to vanity. The eyes themselves were dark brown and snappingly alert, no-nonsense eyes which echoed the decisive, slightly hard planes of her face. Her body was clad in what her fellow workers had long ago decided was her equivalent of army uniform or nun's habit; a crisp white shirt buttoned high at her throat, over which the top half of a severely cut gray linen suit slipped smoothly. Her hemline was decently below her knees, the skirt cut generously enough to avoid its riding up when she sat down, her legs were sheathed in sensibly thick support hose, and on her feet she wore black lace-up shoes with solid block heels.