The Kwalic Archive (Part One)
From the various stories that I've been told about Jack's childhood I've concluded that the four Ross kids were brilliant eccentrics from an early age. I'd glimpsed evidence of this in the strange invented languages and code-names they had inscribed into the fly leaves of their picture books and in the fragments of a large blackboard mural buried behind Jack's bookshelves in his old bedroom. By removing rows of books I could make out a menacing army of chalk ants about to lay siege to a castle being defended by a band of stick figure patriots. But the full extent of their extraordinary imaginations came to light recently through the discovery of the most amazing archive of Ross family juvenilia.
When I was clearing out a camphor chest a few months ago I came across a number of little packets of pattern pieces for toy koalas made by Jack's late sister Anne. As a novice toy maker myself I was amazed by the intricacy and variety of the pattern pieces and the unusual markings on each one like 'real' and 'yes'.
When I noticed the names 'Hothair' and 'Dodey' on two of the packets my curiosity was piqued. I asked Jack about them and he told me that there were many more koalas and that what had started out as a simple game between Anne and him with toy koalas that they had brought home from a trip to Australia grew over time into an elaborate story of the 'Kwala' kingdom of 'Kwalaloompa'. He introduced me to Balthus and Bibulus, two handsome Kwala specimens that Anne had made and when I asked June if she had any others that I could look at she dug inside her cupboard and pulled out a box load of Anne's Kwalas and handed me an envelope marked 'Kwalic Documents'.
Having spent much of the past four years laboriously trawling through an archive of 400 of Rita Angus's letters for my PhD research I've become a fairly seasoned archival researcher but I can honestly say that nothing could have prepared me for the contents of the dog-eared envelope that came into my hands yesterday. What a treasure!
The Kwala story begins innocently enough with a two volume illustrated account of the childhood of a certain Allogee Kwala.
Allogee, whose main form of expression is the word 'Nay', is a mischievous tot who gets into trouble from an early age, knocking over the precious family heirlooms and leaping into muddy puddles whenever he can.
As he gets older Allogee's main interest becomes the location and consumption of huge amounts of pies, chocolates and sweets. On one occasion he demolishes an entire feast intended for a gathering of 7000 of his relations much to the chagrin of his long-suffering guardian Tabatha.
Needless to say, when Allogee starts school he sits at the back of the class taught by Miss Grump and smuggles his dog Bonzo into the schoolroom.
Allogee's scholastic achievements leave something to be desired as the results of a spelling test illustrate.
As a consequence, Allogee decides that playing truant is a better way to spend his time.
First he goes fishing
and then he comes across a gypsy camp
and decides to run away with them.
But Allogee's fatal flaw is his greed, which gets the better of him once again when he spies a café and decides to pop in for a bite to eat. A squad of truant officers are there waiting for him and Allogee's adventures on the road come to an abrupt end.
Fortunately, love is in the air for our beleaguered young kwala, taking the form of the delightful Susy.
but some complex contretemps occurs during their first date and true love is thwarted.
And so ends Volume One of the life of Allogee Kwala - more to come soon...