Angie led them into the streets of Free O’Connor, past a large sign that said GMO free, Fluoride Free and Pesticide Free.
“That’s very nice of them to make them all free,” said Santa, as they troopedpast houses with flags of Free Tibet, Free East Timor, Free South Africa.
“Where are the Australian flags?” Santa asked.
“You’ll find those out in the Bogan suburbs of Tuggeranong, to match the Southern Cross neck tattoos and Aussie Pride car stickers,” Angie said. “After the 2025 referendum on a new flag, things got silly when there was no clear winner out of five different preferred designs, and some committee tried to come up with a flag incorporating all five designs in one. Most people prefer no flag than that one and the bogans stick by the old one.”
“You don’t need a flag to be a patriot,” Ned said.
“A flag is a symbol of a nation’s claim over a land,” said Captain Cook. “One should fly it with pride.”
“Says he who planted a British flag to unjustly claim this land from the indigenous inhabitants,” said Angie.
“Is that how they tell it?” Cook asked.
“Yes,” Angie said, “though I suspect there is a lot more to it, and you were but a product of your time as I am a product of mine.”
Cook smiled. “You know your history!” he said.
“Does that surprise you?” she asked. “We pride ourselves on knowing the complexity of history in the underground. Not like the simple stories the Government sells us.”
“Underground?” asked Ned Kelly. “You live underground? I didn’t know Canberra had an underground.”
“It’s just what we call ourselves,” Angie said. “We don’t actually live underground.”
“Then why use the name?” asked Ned.
“Don’t get stuck on the name,” she said. “Like you shouldn’t get stuck on a flag. It’s what we stand for. What we fight for that matters.”
“And what do you fight for?”
“A better way,” she said. “We have members who remember the old times and we have members who have known nothing but these times – but we all dream of a new way. A fairer way.”
“A Belconnen Way,” said Santa.
Nobody laughed. He shrugged. “I don’t know much, but I know my street maps,” he said.
“And how do they tell about me?” Ned Kelly asked.
“A sexist and a violent thief,” Angie said.
Ned frowned. “And how do you see it?”
“Oppositional defiance disorder,” she said. “And also sexist and a violent thief.”
Ned’s frown didn’t improve.
“So can you help us get back to the Museum?” Cook asked.
Angie considered that for a moment. “Well – it will be dangerous,” she said.
“Not as dangerous as not getting back to the Museum,” Cook said.
“Think of us all as refugees in need of your help,” Santa said.
“Okay,” she said. “But we’ll have to move quietly.”
“No,” said Santa. “We’ll have to move quickly.”
“Then we’ll need to find some more suitable clothes for you,” she said.
“That’s my department,” said Ned. “Stay here.”
He ducked under a tree and pushed his way through a hedge and was back in about five minutes holding a metal garbage bin in his hands.
“What have you got there?” Cook asked him.
“Clothes,” he said. “Freshly washed.”
Santa gave him a disapproving frown, but tried on the khaki jumper and pants that Ned gave him. “What about you?” Cook asked Ned as he squeezed into a pair of purple overalls that he gave him.
“This is mine,” said Ned. He dropped the bin to the ground, stomped on it until he had kicked a hole in it. “Now,” he said. “I’ve always fancied a ride on that light rail that is supposed to run down Northbourne Avenue.”
“They’ll never give you tickets without ID chips,” Angie said.
“Who said anything about needing tickets nor ID chips,” Ned said, and put the upended bin over his head. “Ah, that’s a better way to view the world,” he added. “Now let’s go.” He took three steps and walked right into a tree branch.
“Yes, clearly a better way,” said Angie. “Maybe you should follow me.”
Craig Cormick is an award-winning Canberra author who has published over twenty book of fiction, non-fiction and short-fiction. His awards include the ACT Book of the Year, a Queensland Premier’s Literary Award and a Victorian Community History Award. His most recent book Uncle Adolf won a 2015 ACT Publishing Award. For more information on Craig and his work check out his website at www.craigcormick.com
Part five will be published on the site tomorrow.