Tuesday, August 07, 2012

"I Am Only Billy Hunt"

Robert Hughes died. I read his history of Australia THE FATAL SHORE a long time ago and the thing I recall most is the brave ingenuity of the convicts' escape attempts. Here's one that sticks in my head for its ironic (I guess) and tragicomic (maybe) qualities: "One prisoner, a former actor named William Hunt, 'who in his younger days had belonged to a company of strolling mountebanks,' disguised himself as an enormous 'boomer' or male kangaroo. He nearly got across to Forestier's Peninsula before two picket-guards, thinking he really was a kangaroo, spotted him and gave chase, leveling their muskets. 'Don't shoot, I am only Billy Hunt,' the nervous marsupial squeaked, to their consternation." The chuckle dies in the throat. It's a sad story, really, when you consider how terrible life was and the crazy brilliance of the idea and the hard work that must have gone into creating such a realistic kangaroo suit in complete secrecy, and the acting skills Billy Hunt put into so very convincingly becoming that kangaroo. Yes, I'm pretty sure there's some irony there: the excellence of his disguise his undoing! Now that Mr. Hughes is dead, I'm not sure I should have quoted that dialogue tag "the nervous marsupial squeaked," which is not my favorite kind of dialogue tag, but there it is.