Theatre script

UA 2001 Melbourne

 

Land of the black swans            

 

 

Scene 1

 

Sophie              

 

I've had enough! That's it. I'm going back.

 

La Trobe          

 

But Sophia...

 

Sophie             

 

Don't Sophia me!  I mean it!

 

La Trobe         

 

I understand. I will post my resignation with the next boat that finally takes off from Port Phillip...I don't  know what more we can do to prevent  these sailors, feverish for gold, from jumping ship...

 

Church ringing, a few cow bells, far off an alphorn playing

 

Scene 2          

 

Sophie            

 

Me? I was Sophie La Trobe the wife of the first Governor  of Victoria. Pardon me? Victoria of Australia, yes that's right. There goes my ever restless Charles Joseph...

 

Charles La Trobe walks with pencil a booklet to and fro

My maiden name was 'de Montmollin', I am a Neuchâteloise, you know, a Swiss...

 

La Trobe       

 

Sophie? You ask me how Sophie was to become my wife?

 

pauses a bit

                     

I know it was a bit mean of me to state and have everyone read it in my diary, 'what I have in Sophie are neither beauty nor wealth but....', then nothing. All being done and gone by, I can trust you with my real musings. Well connected she is!

 

Sophie           

 

Have I liked being here? Well , that is a ...

 

Scene 3

 

Picture of Neuchatel being projected. Charles paces up and down, not quite knowing where to start.

 

La Trobe      

 

Sophia, I just received my next posting, and it is a long way from your Hometown. Her Majesty liked my account of schooling in Jamaica, so  that  Her Majesty promoted me to Superintendent.

 

Sophie          

 

I hear you, but do say, to which place. India perhaps, I have dreamed of riding on an elephant.

 

La Trobe       

 

Imagine a trip by ship, port-a-calls and exotic harbours...you will be able to live it, not just read about it.

 

Sophie          

 

Please tell me, where we shall go ! 

La Trobe       

Country where the swans are black and the savages of Rousseau are for real.

 

Sophie          

 

Please, you are teasing me, what is this place?

 

La Trobe      

 

Port Philip  in  New South Wales.

 

Sophie          

 

New South Wales? But that's half way around the world!

 

Charles  la Trobe nods

 

Such an awful long trip for our little Rose...

 

Charles nods again

 

Terra Australis....

 

La Trobe       

 

I thought you wouldn't be happy about it. I better let Her Majesty know that we can not ..

 

Sophie          

 

Of course we can! If you reject a promotion now, it will be the end of your career. It will do me good to get away from my extended family, where everyone knows when you have stained your handkerchief. Feels a bit crowded, at

times! You have said yourself, that Neuchâtel is a place where cousins swarm like herrings  at every corner.

 

Scene  4

 

on a boat, Charles writes in his booklet standing  

 

La Trobe       

 

Rose come here! Don't go that far out to the railing! You have the same view on the dolphins from here in any

case. Where was I?  Yes... Well connected she is. Her Majesty Victoria's Grandmother Queen Charlotte entrusted the education of her children to consecutively two aunts of Sophie. Her father is the chamberlain of the Prussian

King. Sophia descends from the great Reformed Theologian Osterwald: everyone has a French bible with HIS commentary in it, you know. And her uncle Count Frédéric de Pourtalès was considered a friend to Napoleon, fought side by side with him, and now he is the equerry to the Empress Josephine. I was the tutor of his son, Albert de Pourtalès. They had me staying at the immense castle Oberhofen before and after our trip to Mexico.

 

Woman, sugary sweet, trying to appear far more intelligent than she is.

 

Woman          

 

Excuse me. Are you...

 

La Trobe        

 

I am he.

 

Woman           

 

May I ask if Mrs. La Trobe is about. I would so much like to see her. I can speak some French, you know.  'Bomchours, Madame'....

 

La  Trobe        

 

I'm afraid, she is indisposed... the sea travel doesn't agree with her...

 

Woman            

 

Oh...Adieu to you then, Mr. Superintendent.

                         

under her breath 

                       

typically French... too stuck up for meeting the likes of us.

 

Scene 5

 

Charles opens his booklet before himself, skims over that, what he has prepared for, clears his throat,  puts an imposing figure on. Declaiming. Sophie present but standing in the back.

 

La Trobe           

 

It is not by individual aggrandissment, by the possesion of numerous flocks of herds, or by costly acres,  that the people shall secure for the country enduring prosperity and happiness, but by the acquisition and maintenance of sound religious and moral intitutions without which no country can become truly great.

                         

Bull-roarer rattling

 

Masked Man    

 

Long live our Superintendent! Hip hip   (3 times)

 

Masked man and woman       

 

Hurrah  (3 times)

 

Masked woman  

 

Oh how good looking he is! And how smart!

 

Masked man      

 

Quite a good speech!

 

Masked woman   

 

Is that his wife behind him?

 

Masked man       

 

How unattractive she is.

 

Masked woman      

 

I have heard that she can't even speak English. She is supposed to be French.

 

Masked man     

 

A Genovese, Swiss as a matter of fact.

 

Masked woman   

 

But she isn't even blond and has brown eyes. Everyone knows that Swedish people are blond are blue eyed.

 

Scene 6

 

Charles leads Sophie blindfolded to a house that has Jolimont written on its porch

 

La Trobe               

 

One step up, here, ...and voilà!

                           

takes blindfold off

                         

what do you think of it?

 

Sophie               

 

Oh, how lovely. Jolimont, you have it named Jolimont, like our....

 

La Trobe               honeymoon house in Neuchâtel. That's right. But  please  enter now.

 

Sophie                

 

How pleasant!  Oh the clock, you have put my mother's  clock up.

                           

Laughs and cries at the same time

                         

And all the furniture! Now we can live here. Wine, in which box is the vine, wait, I know where it is. Here, ...water and a bit of 'chocolat' for Rose; we have to celebrate our first day in our own home.  Charles, where is the water, so that..,

 

La Trobe              

 

Water, how embarrassing, how could I forget about that. I will attend to that. A water cart will immediatly go and fetch some water. I will get someone.

 

Sophie                 

 

Leave that for now. First we will drink to Jolimont, and I have some water for Rose in the flask. That will do for now.

 

Scene 7

 

Sophie opens an invitation letter. Reads it.

 

Sophie                 

 

Ride your horse to Great Burke Street east and take out your compass and find 22 Degrees east off north, then gallop for two miles and I shall welcome you at Abbotsford.  Signed Georgina McCrae Charlotte, can you mind Agnes for me? But you can not say a word to Charles, nor to anyone else! Georgina doesn't want to play the tame wife. Ever  so often, I get  such an invitation from her, and we have a wild ride together and  laugh about  the polite Melbourne society. You know, we are both not belonging to it, because I am only a Swiss and Georgina's the illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Gordon, Scotland that is. She is a first class painter and well read, too. She revels in making their society uneasy. She says, that propriety is a way to shut up an intelligent woman, not to reveal the dullness of the society ladies. Anyway give her ten men, she says, with brains to discuss things with, and she is in her element. I know how she feels, Charlotte, I know. But as the Superintendent's wife I can not stir the hornet's nest, in view of the constant complaining about Charles, which we have to bear all the time. You see Charlotte, if you have wondered what  happened to your wild Sophie de Montmollin of Neuchâtel....I had to domesticate myself for the grand position of Charles as                 Superintendent. So, please, let me be free for an afternoon....Agnes and Rose can play as always together, and as long as they stay in the vicinity of the house you will be fine. You can tell the possible visitors about my whereabouts anything you want, but …. mum's the word.....

 

Scene 8

People obviously agitated

 

Masked man      

 

Mr. La Trobe does not by public days, or by some other means, draw those distinctions which society requires. It is in his power to do so, and in some sense it is his duty also.

 

Masked woman    

 

That right, his duty! Where you up there as well, and just got that Charlotte woman...

 

Masked man        

 

Mister La Trobe was again out, somewhere in Gippsland or Otway...

 

Masked woman    

 

And Missus La Trobe had a migraine, again. And don't you think that Missus La Trobe had a cheek to employ a divorced woman in our Superintendent's house. This Charlotte has a dreadful English  and she even has a daughter .

 

Masked man          

 

Yeah, too right, it‘s a damned cheek

 

Scene 9

 

Sophie plays with a bobbin for pillow-lacing, Charles la Trobe reading a book

 

Sophie                 

 

Don't you think that it would be better for you to remain at home a bit more to sort the people's complaints out, I am tired of being the first in the battle line. I thought you had to steer your part of the colony like a boat over the rough edges, take the bull by the horns!

 

La Trobe               

 

But I have just found the Land route between Melbourne and Gippsland on my trips...

 

Sophie              

 

 I would prefer it, if you would be here. Jolimont needs you, the stables, the garden. Particularly the garden, I don't trust the gardener with my seeds anymore.  As I asked him to plant seeds that I have brought with me from Neuchâtel like maize and various types of vegetables, apple, pear and quince.  He planted only the potato and the other seeds he discarded. When I asked him why he had done this, he only mumbled, that this is British soil and he will not plant foreign stuff in the ground.

 

La Trobe              

 

Don't take it that way, he didn't mean any harm. I am on my trips because we cannot afford huge  parties, and that's what they want.

 

Sophie                

 

I know we can not overstretch our budged at all, for, imagine, if you had to loan a sum of money from those extortioners, that only wait for an occasion to have a political powerful person like you indebted to them.

 

La Trobe            

 

Goodness no! What should I do then? Her Majesty didn give us neither a house to live in, nor means to  keep it open to guests…

 

Sophie                

 

You can keep their minds busy with worthwhile projects, get them exited in something, like a building for the Mechanics' Institution or a botanical gardens. Let them build churches, schools and a University. They are bored young men, and apart from the auctions that go on all the time, there is no entertainment for them.

 

La Trobe            

 

Thank God I have a wife who can think. I can get them to work out a way to drain the muddy streets  and make them real thoroughfares.

 

Sophie                

 

And, please, get them to talk to the laundresses not to hang their washing over the streets anymore. The white drapery flapping in the wind frightens every horse.  Apart from the danger of the bolters, it is not a sign of a great city to be flagged in white underpants.

 

La Trobe              

 

The pigs are a nuisance, too, running feral. We have to get a plan how to abate the pigs straying.

 

Sophie                 

 

yea, I have heard about that little boy being terribly mangled by a ferocious sow....

 

Scene 10

 

A street in  Melbourne

 

Masked man        

 

I say Miss, are you a married Woman?

 

Masked woman   

 

Well I'm sure! What next I wonder! What's that to you himpidence! Go along you villen or I'll give you in charge! What business is it of yours, whether I'm married or single?

 

Masked man        

 

Well I didn't mean to offend you Miss, I only want a Missus, and if you're agreeable, for I've been to the Diggins and got a rattling swag, I'll set you up in regular tip top style: Cottage at Brighton or Heidelberg for the Honey  Moon - four 'orses to the coach, white flavours!  Everything correct and fashnable. Have a look at that - excuse my freedom, but I'm quite took with you...

Pulls out a bundle of notes

 

Masked woman   

 

Well I never! This is a strange place where a Lady can't walk in the streets to go window shopping, but Gents, she doesn't know, ask her if she will marry them. I'm sorry, sir, that I spoke so sharp before but I wasn't to know, was I? So you think I should suit you? Well that is flattering. But how much have got you there in them bundles of notes, 'cause I don't mind telling you plain that it depends on that a good deal whether you 'ave me or not.

 

Masked man      

 

 I've got five hundred pounds here and a rare 'toto' at the treasury, besides a good cart and team of 'orses' and...

 

Masked woman    

 

Oh never mind  telling me that sort of rubbish - give the five hundred quids and I'm agreeable. It's not for long I suppose? Give us a hold of them and you can tell what's in the treasury for curiosity sake. But, let's have a look at them first - there's no Don Havannas'  here is there?

 

Masked man         

 

No, 'pon honour my love; You'll find me all fair and above board. I'm 'all there' and no mistake.

                             

They walk off

                              

Not bad for an old gold Digger going off to get spliced to that good looking 'oman..

 

Scene 11

Sophie and Charles involved in a serious discussion

 

Sophie                  

 

My cousin has just told me that himself and all the other Swiss immigrants have a huge problem.

 

La Trobe                 

 

That would be...

 

Sophie                  

 

Did you know that only British subjects can purchase land. Because I'm to blame for their coming out here, we encouraged the vinegrowers to emigrate here, don't you remember, I'm asked why we didn't say anything before.

 

La Trobe             

 

Yes, my mistake, I forgot to tell them. But we can sponsor their naturalisation. I have sent the convict ship  on to Sydney; the sentiment was so strongly against landing here, so I have sent them further  north, putting a curb on the revolutionary minds of the settlers of Melbourne.

 

Sophie                 

 

Thank God, we don't want a revolution here as well. Luckily the revolution in Neuchâtel went without any bloodshed. So my brother François has told me. I was anxious about Agnes being in the middle of it all. François was called again to the Council of the Republic.Because my family is politically moderate,  we have always thought, people of Neuchâtel first, constitutional rule after. 

 

Scene 12

Town hall meeting

 

Masked man      

 

His Honor the Superintendent, although possessing the rank and authority of a Lieutenant-Governor, has never upheld the dignity of his high office in a manner befitting the representative of your Majesty,  and has altogether failed of affording to the Colonists, even on the natal day of their beloved Sovereign, those opportunities of testifying their loyalty and attachment to your Majesty's royal person and  Government, which are customary in every other portion of the British Empire.

                           

Clears his throat

                           

All those in favour of the removal of Mr. La Trobe, say aye.....

 

Scene 13

Sophie sitting alone, reminiscing

 

Sophie               

 

Why do we women do it, press ourselves into the tightness of bourgeois ideals of feminity?  We profess to be happy being in the house, with the children, with the garden like Voltaire's Candide, with the managing of the household. No discourse on intellectual matters, that is frowned upon.  Diese ewige Zwangsjacke. Pardon me, I forgot, you don't understand German. Didn't I know myself enough to get the hints that my body wanted to tell me. I worried about everything, Charles, the children, the house. So much worries that my head hurts. Yet going to my cousin in Yarra Glen the headache gave way, and we could have a lively discussion. What on earth convinced me that this bourgeois ideal of feminity is the example to follow? It breeds only sentimentality and false nostalgia and leads to superstitions. Honestly I prefer enlightenment, reason and science underpinned by humanity.

 

 

Scene 14

 

La Trobe             

 

Sophie, I can make them remove themselves from our block of land.

 

Sophie               

 

Why? These aborigines don't do anyone any harm. On the contrary they have been a great help at times. Chopping wood or bringing new made brooms. Once when the water cart couldn't get through, everything was the flooded, you know when you were in the Otway region... We were in a real pickle, no water.  All of a sudden two aborigines arrived, each carrying two large buckets of water;  they called out and left  the water for us. In any way, they usually don't  come much closer than 15 feet. It amuses them to observe what we do.

 

La Trobe           

 

I've noticed that. It unnerves me to have them following me with their eyes all the time, don't you get.

 

Sophie               

 

See I get that from all sides, being watched, you know,  from the colonists and the natives. And you can imagine, who I prefer of the two. There is no malice in the aborigines' observing.  As they saw Charlotte putting the cow bell around the neck of pelly nelly, you could hear them giggle. The young ones chased  the cow bell ringing up and down our paddock and that  produced loud laughter. And have you seen them making music? That thing that they call didgeridoo is quite like a alphorn without the bend.

 

La Trobe             

 

I see, I've much rather had them integrate into our society, like the native police, that is a prime example of successful incorporation.

 

Sophie               

 

I beg to differ with you on this point. Why not give them land so that they can live, like they always  have. The settlers would know not to intrude on their area. And perhaps you could have the native police watch the borders of the protective land.

 

La Trobe             

 

I have enough complaints ..  especially because the settlers feel so strongly about claiming the land for themselves,  I would have an uphill battle at my hands... no, no... Rousseau's principle about the noble savages are nice on paper, but One has to be more pragmatic....

 

Sophie          

 

I would still try it. You are in the black book with most of the colonists, and what can they do to you now in any case. The request of your removal and the complaining list is on its way to Her Majesty.....

 

La Trobe              

 

I did submit my resignation in any case. The letter to Her Majesty went with the last ship. I would like that you will go back with the girls to Neuchâtel. Schools are so much better for them in Neuchâtel. And you know, we have to think about introducing them to possible suitors….I don’t want  them settle in Melbourne. We have taught them French, German, Italian and English not for nothing. In Neuchâtel in our circles this is normal.

 

Sophie                

 

I’m glad, you see it the same way as me. I will slowly prepare all our bags to be shipped. Are you sure you can't come with us with coming ship to England. They don't want you here in any case. And you have done an awful lot of things for Melbourne. Without you, they wouldn't have the Botanical gardens now. the state library or even the hospital and churches, or also the mechanics Institute. Your could well say, that you call it a day. Come with us, I beg you.

Her Majesty the Queen won't look too graciously upon me ending my stay in Melbourne on my own account. I have to stay till my term has come to completion.

La Trobe           

 

Her Majesty the Queen won't look too graciously upon me ending my stay in Melbourne on my own account. I have to stay till my term has come to completion.

 

Scene 15

 

Charles la Trobe is reading the newspaper, sitting on a bench. All of a sudden he stops, reads it again. Then lets the paper fall on the bench. Covers his face with both hands. In the newspaper there is a cross and  underneath  < Sophie la Trobe - de Montmollin > Rest in Peace. Charles la Trobe goes to the rose garden.

©Corinne Othenin-Girard 2001

© 2017 by C. Othenin-Girard Proudly created with Wix.com