We were always in awe of our Japanese grandmother, so tiny and delicate in comparison to her great clodhoppers of
grandchildren who took after the Australian side of the family. The only thing we inherited from her were our sloe black eyes.
grandchildren, she always remained an enigma. "Tell us about where you came from?" we would beg her.
from Japan," she said, her sloe black eyes smiling.
"But where in Japan?" we cried, especially me, who had a greater interest than the others in our family history. "We
know Grandfather's family here in Melbourne, but we know nothing about your Japanese family."
smiled mysteriously and fluttered a fan made from rice paper in front of her face, using it like a mask.
tried to guess what grandmother's life might have been in Japan. Had she been a princess or highborn Japanese lady?
of the younger grandchildren was sure grandmother had been a fairy. We bigger ones scoffed, which sent her fleeing to grandmother
for comfort. "If you say I was a fairy, then I must have been," grandmother said. "Look, my little one." Grandmother opened
the fan with its exotic design. "See the crane contemplating the tree. What is he thinking?"
wants to build a nest and lay some eggs," my small cousin said, getting her genders mixed.
folded the fan and placed it in my cousin's chubby hand. "For you, little one." Sixty years later, my cousin still has it.
grew older, we queried grandmother's history less, that is, all except me. I suppose it was why grandfather left me the letter
to be opened after my grandparents’ deaths. He knew I would become an historian.
small hessian clad huts masquerading as laundries and other businesses in Lindsay Street, Coolgardie, a gold mining town in
Western Australia, were fronts for brothels and sly grog shops. The locals nicknamed the street, the Rue de Lindsay, because
of the French prostitutes who worked there.
Robinson arrived from Bendigo in 1897, to work as a mining engineer. He made friends with the local doctor, Jack O'Connor,
a young Irishman, who took James to try the delights of the local prostitutes.
doctors visit prostitutes?" James asked, sounding a little prudish.
else is there to do in this God forsaken town?" Jack said in his lilting Irish brogue and with his dashing Irish smile.
walked along the dusty red road and stopped outside a hut where two women, wearing low cut dresses and showing a lot of leg,
called to them. "The French girls," Jack said to James as he waved to the women.
lives in the next hut?" James asked, who had glimpsed a face at the curtained window of the building.
fronts as a Japanese laundry. The Japanese girls keep well hidden. Not like these two exuberant ladies who will give you a
good time and try to steal your money as well as trying to kill you with their grog. I'd like a shilling for every man who's
ended up at the hospital suffering delirium tremens and the loss of his hard earned cash after a visit to these two beauties."
Jack waved to the two women. "I'll be there shortly, my darlings," he called in answer to their suggestive invitations. "I've
only a pound in my pocket," he told the French women as they flung their arms around him.” `See what you can give me
for that, my darlings," he said as he good-naturedly allowed the women to drag him inside.
to follow, James saw the curtain flutter again at the Japanese laundry's window. After a few moments deliberation, he went
in. A small Japanese man came into the tiny hall. "What can I do for you, honorable sir,” he whispered.
some shirts to be laundered,’ James stuttered. “Would you be able to do them?"
small Japanese man bowed. “Yes, honorable sir.”
bring them tomorrow.” As he turned to go, two women, wearing kimonos, their faces half hidden by the rice paper fans
they held, emerged from behind a hessian-covered door.
and Oyoni from Japan," the man said, bowing again.
women bowed too, and fluttered their fans.
one would you like, honorable sir?"
daze, James said, "That one." He pointed to the younger girl, who looked very beautiful with her perfect Japanese features.
girl bent her head in obeisance and led him to a small room off the hall.
look very young," James said.
surprised when she replied in lilting near faultless English. "I am sixteen."
her perfect small breasts looked like golden peaches decorated with pink rosettes. He felt a desperate desire to caress their
softness and to cover those tender rosettes with kisses.
are you doing in this place," he whispered as he gazed into her sloe black eyes.
father sold me to the Karayuki-san when the rain didn't come and the rice crop failed." Tears welled in her eyes and ran down
cry." He kissed her soft lips and wanted to make love again. “I'll take you away from here,” he vowed.
he told Jack about his promise to rescue the girl, Jack laughed. "You're off your head. She's only a prostitute. What would
you do with her? Take her home to your family! Marry her!"
I will." James looked horrified when he thought of what his family would say.
Jack clapped him on the shoulder. "Take my advice, James. Forget her. Her Japanese
laundryman pimp would carve you up in a thousand pieces if you took the girl."
very beautiful," James muttered.
a prostitute. Forget about her and go to the Kalgoorlie girls next time."
did flee from the brothel. She escaped with Shah Secundah, an Afghan cameleer, old enough to be her grandfather, but the Japanese
pimp caught up with them a day's journey from Coolgardie. He killed the Afghan and wounded Oyoni who escaped into the darkness
of the surrounding bush.
revenge, Shah Secundah’s countrymen caught the Japanese and killed him. Oyoni was close to death from dehydration and
loss of blood when a trio of Aborigines found her two days later and carried her to the hospital.
and in a fever, Oyoni came to her senses several days later to see Sister Quinn and Doctor Jack O'Connor standing by her bed.
smiled. "Feeling better?" he asked in his professional voice.
nodded. She looked like she didn't know whether she was or not. She tried to smile though cracked and swollen lips and a face
peeling from sunburn. Her shoulder where the Japanese pimp had knifed her to the bone was heavily bandaged.
a few weeks your shoulder will be healed," Jack said. "You are badly sunburnt and dehydrated. You must drink plenty of water
and do what Sister Quinn tells you." He smiled and moved to the next patient
Quinn told Oyoni about the killing of the Japanese laundryman and the demise of Shah Secundah.
Secundah was a good man," Oyoni whispered. "He said he would look after me. What will happen to me now?" She turned her poor
sunburnt face away.
O'Connor will arrange something," Sister Quinn said. She patted Oyoni's good shoulder.
Jack O'Connor didn't know what to do about Oyoni. "Of course, seeing she's only sixteen, she can't go back to the brothels.
She wants a good man to marry."
only sixteen," Sister Quinn said.
can't compare her with our sixteen year old girls," Jack said. "She's been a prostitute and probably will be again."
were plenty of men who would take Oyoni into their camp, but Jack didn't think any of them suitable for the Japanese girl,
recovering from her ordeal and getting back her beauty.
James will look after her, Jack thought, remembering James' desperate desire for the girl. James might take her off his hands.
With this hopeful thought, he caught the train to Kalgoorlie to discover James had given up his job and returned to Bendigo.
him month to come to a decision about Oyoni’s future. She had left the hospital and was living in his house. The shoulder
wound had healed and she had recovered from the sunburn and become beautiful again.
some of Oyoni’s former patrons called at the doctor’s house, Mrs Benson, the housekeeper, threatened the undesirables
as she called them with a wooden spoon to get rid of them.
told Jack tartly, "Oyoni is a schoolgirl. It's a pity the men around here don't realize it."
she looks like a schoolgirl, then that's what she'll be," Jack said.
for a locum to come to Coolgardie while he and Oyoni went to Perth. He told the headmistress of the girls’ school, recommended
to him by one of his friends that Oyoni was the daughter of a prominent Japanese mining man. He also warned Oyoni before he
left not to mention her previous life in the brothel.
to Coolgardie and forgot about her except when the bills arrived for the school fees. He showed Mrs Benson the reports and
the remarks, which the headmistress wrote about Oyoni, which increased in praise with every bill she sent. One of my best
girls, very intelligent and charming and industrious, sings well, plays the guitar excellently - the headmistress had
importuned Jack for extra fees for Oyoni's guitar lessons. We like our girls to learn a musical instrument, she wrote
to Jack. Oyoni says she would like to learn the guitar.
a very intelligent girl as well as beautiful," Mrs Benson said, looking at the report.
Then suddenly, before Jack knew it, the two years were up. He had nearly proposed to the warden's daughter, but that
idea fizzled out when he thought she looked and behaved too much like her mother, a forthright woman, who ruled her husband
and family with a rod of iron. I want a wife who will bend to my wishes, he thought. Though he still called upon the warden
and his family, he didn’t seek out the daughter much to the dismay of the mother, whom Mrs Benson learnt from her friends,
had begun to make preparations for the wedding.
headmistress wrote they could teach Oyoni no more. What did Doctor O'Connor plan for her future, the headmistress asked in
a postscript to Oyoni's last report?
sat in the headmistress's small sitting room, waiting for Oyoni and making plans to return her to her family in Japan. I can't
continue being a surrogate father to a Japanese girl I hardly know, he thought.
entered the room, bowing and said to her benefactor as she had learnt in etiquette classes. "How do you do, Doctor O'Connor."
demure, she sat on a chair opposite him. Her long black hair was tied back by a blue ribbon and she wore a white dress with
long sleeves and a high neckline and looked the picture of innocence.
I suspect my grandfather, Jack O'Connor, fell in love with her then.
When they returned to the hotel, Jack asked. "Would you like to marry me, Oyoni?"
very much," Oyoni said in a voice more Australian now than Japanese.
worked fast after that. He arranged to be married to Oyoni under the auspices of a Japanese businessman who agreed to represent
her as a member of his family and sent his resignation to the Coolgardie Hospital. He booked tickets on the steamer to Sydney
and found work as a doctor in a Melbourne Hospital.
relationship, which had begun in hell, had ended in heaven. As I write this family history, I still can scarcely believe my
fragile, beautiful, talented Japanese grandmother was once a prostitute in Coolgardie in its roaring days.