The Unusual Suspects – Episode 1

© Andrew Joyner 2001
© Andrew Joyner 2001
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A CONSPIRACY to destroy Federation and replace the new Australian government with a dictatorship. That’s the theme of a new serial created by DAVE WARNER and The Sydney Morning Herald writer DAVID DALE. Over the next 10 episodes they will reveal how amateur sleuths Miles Franklin and Victor Trumper race to thwart the plot, with help and hindrance from the likes of Henry Lawson, Daisy Bates and Tom Roberts. Now read on …


I shall never forget that twenty-fourth day of December in the nineteen hundredth year since the birth of Our Lord. As the sun beat merrily upon my hat, a choir of young Presbyterian ladies on the GPO steps caressed the air with Christmas carols while the pleasant aroma of baled wool wafted from carts bound for the Quay. I should have been joyous. But I was not. The genesis of my melancholia was not the impending celebrations for Federation. While initially opposed, I had recently begun skipping to its beat – even finding myself singing the new, rather catchy ditty Waltzing Matilda, which some were suggesting as a future anthem for a united Australia.

This is not to say I had embraced the views of those who would delight in us fleeing the nest of our Mother Country; Fenians, papists, socialists, republicans and their ilk.One only needs stroll in the Domain to hear these slubberdegullions on their soapboxes advocating treachery. The Australian man has too much common sense to give such notions the time of day. No, the core of my infestivity resided in the letter I had retrieved from the GPO. My mother was imploring me to stay out of the Boer conflict. My brother had apparently beaten me to the punch, enlisting with the Victorians, and my mother did not want to be left alone. As much as I revered the ailing Queen Victoria, I could not place her requirements above those of my own mother.

Every khaki uniform I passed, therefore, was like a bayonet in my ribs. Every neatly buttoned gaiter, a lash to my soul. All about me men were hammering and balancing on ladders, festooning the city for the Grand Procession which in one week would mark Federation. Martin Place had been turned into a Roman pantheon, with columns and arches decorated in wreaths and multitudinous lightbulbs. It should have made one’s heart burst with pride but as I passed under the arch which carried the message Greetings From A United People, it might has well have been a guillotine. I made my way to the Victoria Arcade. It was crowded with happy people buying themselves new outfits for the celebrations. Watson the milliner was doing a particularly brisk trade. But from somewhere the racking sobs of a female reached me. I turned to see a young woman seated on a bench. Slim and pretty, she had wild red hair and freckles. “Excuse me, Miss,” I said, moving towards her. “My name is Charles Alfred Bennett. May I be of assistance?”

She threw herself upon me with the force of a cyclone, soaking my coat with her tears and gushing out her story in a torrent. It transpired she was none other than Stella “Miles” Franklin, an authoress. She revealed she had recently been in the throes of a passionate affair with the son of an important family. (She did not reveal their name and I did not press.) Somewhat intemperately, her lover had set down his lustful desires in a letter to her. This letter had been stolen that very morning as she travelled by train from Newcastle to Sydney Station. “The thief must have been one of the other passengers in my first-class carriage,” she said. Fortunately Miss Franklin was able to recall each of the five: Carsten Borchgrevink, the first man ever to set foot on the Antarctic continent; Daisy Bates, philanthropist; Tom Roberts, artist; Ashburton Thompson, a doctor; and Freddy Lane, recent winner of two gold medals for swimming at the Paris Olympic Games. Apparently they had all been in Newcastle at some function in honour of Lord Hopetoun, who was to be our first governor-general. How I, a pathetic insurance clerk, was going to confront these important people, I had no idea. But looking at Miss Franklin, I knew that I must.