Setting: St Matthew’s Church, Guildford. 1920. The church is filled with mourners (the audience) who sit in silent reverie, for they are participating in the funeral of Mrs Augusta Wentworth. Augusta is also there, but clearly not one of the congregation as she is dressed with her usual flair in a slightly dated gown of a golden yellow, and is wandering around the church. She is aware that it is her own funeral and is providing social commentary as was her habit in life.
Augusta Wentworth is a fictional pioneering member of the Guildford community. She and her husband Thomas arrived in 1860 with their two sons and settled on the upper Swan, north of Guildford which remained their local township. Though she had a rather privileged upbringing in England, like many women in her situation, she experienced hardship in the new Perth colony. As she grew older she became one of the personalities of the area and was renowned for her vibrancy and energy, particularly amongst the younger generations.
Augusta: We’re here are we? I suppose it’s to be expected. There aren’t any other C of E churches in Guildford.
It’s just, I’ve attended enough funerals here without this one. Thomas was first. That was almost thirty years ago now. It is strange how it still feels as though it were yesterday. The doctor said I was lucky to have him that long, but that was why we moved to Australia: so he would live longer. So we could share a full life together. He was only 65. I suppose I just didn’t expect to reach 87. At least, not without him. Truthfully, I’m surprised I lasted this long. This pioneering lifestyle should have exhausted me years ago. Remember, there wasn’t much here when we arrived. Unless it was the pioneering spirit that kept me battling on. And if my Thomas wasn’t enough, we had to repeat it all again five years later burying James and his family. A mother is not supposed to bury her son! Particularly not when he’s accompanied by his wife and daughter. Such an unexpected tragedy. Poor Lucy. I made sure her flowers were pink, her favourite. It was the least I could do.
(She stops, listening.)
Oh dear, they do drone on don’t they. I don’t see why, as they all know my life story: I’ve told enough of them. And those I didn’t tell, gossip reached anyhow. It had a way of doing that in this community. I suppose they are family though and I was allowed such outpourings of pride and grief at Thomas’. Ned always has been such a wonderful speaker. As grandparents we’re not supposed to have favourites, but he was always mine. He is just so like his grandfather. And when he married Miss Eliza it was a dream come true. They do suit each other so well don’t you think? I remember when she and her sisters first arrived here. Three young ladies all in grey quietly seating in their family pew: they caused quite a stir, and not just on that first Sunday. Until their arrival there were never enough visual distractions from the monotony of the sermon. These walls are unadorned and the windows basic enough: too long and thin though. Less enlightening than they should have been for a church, in my eyes. And I don’t know why I never contributed towards replacing that alter screen. At least they were thoughtful enough to decorate it with flowers today. Mimosa always was my favourite: the little downy balls of sunshine brightened the hardest of days, then and still now. I gather the [reverend] hasn’t changed though. (A dear little man, so kind and well meaning, but heavens he knew how to put his congregation to sleep.) (she turns to face the altar) Good heavens, he has. Poor Canon Everingham must not be with us any longer, he was old even then.
(By now Augusta is at the other end of the church near the door where she can survey the church and the congregation in their entirety.)
It really is a drab little church isn’t it. I don’t know why I never considered being more vocal when it was being built. Anything to liven it up really! Well, not that! (She’s just caught sight of the World War I memorial.) I’m thankful our name is not included. That would have been a tragedy too terrible to bear. We did our part though: here, as far away from the action as possible. Jack so desperately wanted to go, but he contributed to the cause in a far better way and without the needless shedding of more blood. (My cousin died in the Crimean.)They weren’t all so fortunate though. Poor Miss Mary-Anne. I hope she bounces back as it’s too quiet around here without her laughter.
(She softens as she catches sight of the font.)I suppose this church does have some happy memories too. Several christenings, a few pretty weddings… (she laughs) John screamed the church down when he was christened. He certainly inherited his father’s lungs. (she pauses to recollect). That wasn’t John. That was Anthony (God bless his soul). The Reverend christened him one week and they buried him the next. He never had a chance at life. His brother married here though: Mr John Wentworth to Miss Kate Townsend. Such a beautiful wedding; Mrs Townsend made sure of that. The bride, with her golden halo and strawberries and cream complexion, was a vision in white tulle and pink roses. (I do sound like the society pages.) Her sisters less so: delicate pink just didn’t suit Miss Eliza’s complexion or Miss Mary Anne’s style. I remember it well: I had to lend Mrs Townsend my handkerchief as she’d wet her’s through.
Her second daughter was never so conventional though: Eliza and Ned bypassed this church for a quieter one down south. Very intimate from what I’ve heard: just what they wanted. It wouldn’t surprise me if they planned it all along. They were clever like that. I’m not supposed to know, but so long as you don’t tell Mrs Townsend… she’d never forgive her daughter if news of the elopement reached her. Not after all of the effort she put into arranging that wedding. You can’t blame them though: two spirited children and a very determined mother of the bride? I probably would have done the same. In fact I know I would have.
(she takes a seat near the altar)
Heavens! I’d forgotten how airless it gets in here. These summer services always were the worst. And yet we never adapted to the climate. A service at sundown would have been far more sensible. I think Miss Mary Anne queried wearing her swimming costume to church one year. It really would have been a sensible idea, if her mother had allowed it. Then again, I’m not entirely sure how the rest of us would have reacted. But of anyone, Mary Anne could have pulled it off. Is it me or is it getting hotter in here? (She pulls out a fan and starts fanning herself) Surely they can’t be much longer. Here, sit beside me and rest. We’ll wait until they’ve all gone. It won’t be long now.