To say Muckley’s first interracial marriage caused some controversy would be a gross understatement. The issue was not the couple’s different races (he was Tongan and brown like caramel; she was of Scottish descent and whiter than her wedding dress), so I needn’t have mentioned it. It’s just, I find it so interesting that it was not until the year of our Lord two thousand and twenty-one that the small town of Muckley had its first interracial marriage. Muckley had a mostly white population, but it’s not like there weren’t different cultures represented there. Aboriginals, Polynesians, Indians, Filipinos, Lebanese, Somalis and even a Brazilian guy flew in from all around Australia to work in the Muckley mines. Years ago, there had been many Chinese and Vietnamese workers. None of them had married a Muckley girl. The locals were all welcoming of the fly-in-fly-out workers, regardless of their race. Except for Dorothy Simmons, who was often described as a “strange old chook”, and Arthur Bandy, who was a genuine racist. Those who knew Arthur overlooked his hatred of the Japanese, attributing his feelings to his experiences as a prisoner of war in Japan. None who knew him, however, could offer a reasonable explanation for his abhorrence of Jews.
Etuate and Sally-Anne (whose races mattered no more and no less than anyone else’s) were married at the Muckley Baptist church, with almost the whole town in attendance. It was a joyous day. The reception took place at the Muckley Bowls Club. Sally-Anne’s mother and sister had surprised Sally-Anne by decorating the club in red and yellow, the colours of the Muckley Meteors, the town’s netball team, for whom Sally-Anne played Goal Attack. Dinner was a credit to the chef and enjoyed by all. The guests ate and drank and danced and laughed. Everyone agreed Sally-Anne was the most beautiful bride the town had seen. Then it was time for the speeches. This was when the full repercussions of the union were made known. Again, this had nothing to do with race. Through the father of the bride’s speech, the maid of honour’s speech, the best man’s speech and Etuate’s grandmother’s speech, race was not mentioned once. Only Arthur Bandy, who was allowed the microphone because he was very drunk and the happy couple thought it might be funny, hinted at anything racial. During his slurred and mostly nonsensical speech, Arthur, with a suspicious eye on Etuate, warned Sally-Anne to “be careful of Zionists.” Again, he was very drunk, and everyone let it slide. No, the trouble came when Etuate and Sally-Anne got up to give their speech together. They thanked everyone for attending, they thanked the bridal party, they thanked their parents, they thanked the minister and the church organist and the bowls club president and the catering staff and the DJ. And then they made an announcement: Sally-Anne was leaving Muckley to go live with Etuate in Sydney.
Within half an hour of that bombshell, the bowls club was emptied. Steamers and balloons were torn down and stomped on, tables were overturned, wedding gifts were taken by those who brought them, and the dance floor was littered with smashed glass. The only thing that survived unscathed was the two-tier wedding cake. The bride and groom had not even had the chance to cut it. Sally-Anne sat on the bowls club steps in tears, her mother and sister trying to console her. Etuate paced the carpark in a rage, his grandmother trying to calm him.
The Muckley Meteors were sitting on top of their netball league ladder, with two rounds to go until the finals. They were far and away the best team that season, thanks largely to Sally-Anne’s speed and deadeye goal shooting. Despite there being only seven teams in the country netball league, Muckley had not won a grand final since 1983. This was supposed to be the year that broke the drought. But without Sally-Anne, the team’s chances plummeted.
Etuate left town the next morning. Sally-Anne decided to stay a few days before she went to join him in Sydney. Riots in Muckley continued for two days and nights. The third day, Muckley was like a ghost town. The day after that, Arthur Bandy showed up at Sally-Anne’s house. Her mother let him in and made tea for everyone. Sally-Anne, her mother and Arthur sat at the dining table. “I must apologise,” said Arthur. “I ruined your wedding day—we all did. You were such a beautiful bride too. I don’t know if I told you that. Sally-Anne, I’ve lived in Muckley seventy years. It’s a harsh place. We’re out in the middle of nowhere, there’s not so many people, and the work is hard. A place like this wears you down, and you don’t even know it. In a place like this, you need a win sometimes. I think we all were hoping the Meteors would give us that win. It’s only natural, but it was foolish. Sweetheart, it doesn’t matter if we win the netball. It’s just a game. And it was wrong of us to put any pressure on you or blame you. Just give everyone a little time and they’ll come around. Trust me. They don’t want to admit it right now, but everyone in town is thrilled for you. Forget about the netball, all right? You go to Sydney and be with your husband. And when you go, know that you go with the blessing of everyone in town. I’ve been around a long time. I know these things.”
Sally-Anne wiped the tears from her eyes. She couldn’t help smiling. Her mother put her arm around her and rubbed her shoulder. “Thank you, Arthur,” sniffed Sally-Anne.
Arthur reached across the table and held her hand. “You’re welcome, sweetheart. And I’ll tell you something else—there was never a holocaust, it was all a lie.”
“Okay,” said Sally-Anne’s mother, standing up. “I think we’ve had enough company for one afternoon, Arthur. Thank you for stopping by. Let me show you out.”
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