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: You’re late my dear, but that’s alright. They’ve almost finished, so come, sit beside me and rest. We’ll wait until they’ve all gone. It won’t be long now. (She sits listening to the speaker) Ned is such a wonderful speaker, isn’t he? As grandparents we’re not supposed to have favourites, but he was always mine. He’s just like his grandfather; Thomas would have been so proud of him: the way he’s taken up the management of the estate. I suppose we never really expected the orchard to be this successful. 30 years ago it was doing better than I’d ever imagined, but Ned has improved upon that 10 fold. And when he married Miss Eliza it couldn’t have worked out better. They do suit each other so well don’t you think? It’s just a pity it took them so long to discover that for themselves. I remember when Miss Eliza and her sisters first arrived here. Three young ladies all in grey quietly seating in their family pew, each one eyes modestly downcast, but perfectly aware of the attention they were receiving from the congregation: 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, particularly in this church. Who would have known they would return to Guildford such beauties.
(She softens as she catches sight of the font.) Miss Kate probably doesn’t remember but she was christened here, in this very font. In fact they all were. (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 Katherine Townsend. I remember it well: I had to lend Mrs Townsend my handkerchief as she’d wet her’s through. 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 doesn’t suit Miss Eliza’s complexion or Miss Mary Anne’s style.
The second Miss Townsend was never so conventional though: Eliza and Ned bypassed this church for a quieter one down south. A far prettier one too if it’s the one I’m led to believe. Very intimate from what I’ve heard: just what they wanted. It wouldn’t surprise me if they’d planned it all along. They were clever like that. We’re not supposed to know, but so as 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.
I didn’t though. There was never any need to follow anything but my parent’s wish. Thomas and I married in London, nothing elaborate, just white, lace and orange blossoms in the beautiful little church around the corner. Mother and Father then hosted the wedding feast before Thomas drove me away to our own dear little house. I remember the pattern of the stained glass window dancing on the white silk of my dress before classing horribly with the wallpaper with which the hall was lined. (She looks around before adding sarcastically). No fear of that here. These walls are more appropriate for a hospital than for a church: bright, white, unadorned, and with long thin windows that won’t even open to let in the afternoon breeze. It’s really too puritanical for a C of E church, in my eyes. And I don’t know why I never contributed towards replacing that alter screen… when there were so many opportunities. Perhaps we still can, as a Wentworth family memorial... I’m sure the reverend wouldn’t mind.
At least they were thoughtful enough to decorate it with flowers today. Wattle always was my favourite: the little downy balls of sunshine brightened the hardest of days, then and still now. (Augusta has her back to the reverend so that she can only hear his voice) 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 changed. 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. Divine intervention saved us from the previous one and we should have learnt our lesson for this one. I don’t know why I never considered being more vocal when it was being built. Well, I do know really; it was just a matter of managing our own building plans at the time and keeping an eye on two teenage sons. So instead we’re stuck with this: looking at a boring wall whilst listening to a boring sermon; my apologies Reverend. Anything to liven it up! Well, not that! (She’s just caught sight of the World War I memorial.) The Great War! The war to end all wars: the Boer War, the Franco-Prussian War, the Crimean War, the Opium War… I’m just 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. John so desperately wanted to go, but he contributed to the cause in a far better way and without the needless shedding of more blood. (It was enough that 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 pauses)
I remember the summer it was so hot in church that Miss Mary Anne queried wearing her swimming costume to the service. She reasoned that if she was going to dampen so many clothes, it should at least be an outfit that was used to getting wet. 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, and the Reverend would have fainted at the sight of her legs swinging in the front row. But of anyone, Mary Anne could have pulled it off. (She pulls out a fan and starts fanning herself) 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.
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 James’ and his family’s. 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. Wreaths of her favourite pink roses. It was the least I could do. They bring back so many memories, even now. Not only of the funeral, but of walking in the gardens cutting flowers for the house with Lucy by my side. She always insisted on carrying the basket no matter that it was far too big and too heavy for her delicate size. I’ve come to hate pink roses, but I couldn’t tell Kate that, and ruin her day.
I was only fortunate that Thomas did not have to experience it with me. His funeral was the first, and 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 had him that long, but that was why we moved to Australia, uprooted a small family and bade farewell to a very happy lifestyle: 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. Perhaps it was the pioneering spirit that kept me battling on so long. An unwillingness to give up on anything. This is the last one though. I suppose I can relax now.