An Old Mate of Your Father’s by Henry Lawson
In An Old Mate of Your Father’s by Henry Lawson we have the theme of friendship, intimacy, respect, memory, identity and aspirations. Taken from his While the Billy Boils collection the story is narrated in the second person by an unnamed narrator and from the beginning of the story it becomes clear to the reader that Lawson may be exploring the theme of friendship. Tom and Bill spend a lot of time together. Talking about their yesterdays and the things that they got up to. What is interesting about the men’s conversations is the fact that they quieten their voices when it comes to topics such as old flames or parts that may be inappropriate for Tom’s wife to hear. It is as though both men know through their experiences of one another that they share a common interest that may not necessarily be appreciated by others. If anything there is an intimacy in the men’s conversation. Though Bill can tell the children stories about their father. It is the closeness between both men that is the real story. Something that the narrator himself may be aware of. He knows that the respect that his father has for Bill may not necessarily be matched by the narrator’s respect for his father or his father’s generation.
The theme of memory is self-evident in the story with Tom and Bill sharing so many stories with each other. Particularly the story of the ‘Eureka Stockade.’ Both men still have the physical scars from the conflict. Something which interests the narrator though he never fully gets to understand what happened. This may be important as it is possible that both Tom and Bill are still bitter over what happened in Eureka and as such do not want to show their true feelings to the narrator. He may see the scars of the past but not know what happened or where the scars came from. He has half bits of stories in which he is trying to formulate the identity of Bill. However both Bill and Tom are certain not to reveal too much of themselves to the narrator. In reality both men may not only be bitter about Eureka but may also feel hurt over what has happened to them. The narrator will never know.
In many ways the narrator doesn’t really know Bill. He knows he is a friend of his father’s and that he worked with his father but he doesn’t really know much more. Which may be the point that Lawson is attempting to make. He may be suggesting that nobody can really know somebody else just from their appearance or stories they might share. There are parts of an individual which the individual may not wish to share. As is the case with Tom and Bill. They only share what they want others to hear. They have their private moments when their conversation is more intimate and they allow themselves to be free with one another. Lawson might also be placing a spotlight on Tom’s marriage. Something he manages to highlight by the narrator’s mother’s insistence on calling Tom ‘father.’ It is as though Tom has a role to play yet this is not the same role that Bill would know him as. This may be significant as Lawson could be using the different roles that Tom has as a father and a friend to highlight the theme of identity again.
There is also no disputing that despite the passing of time both Tom and Bill still have aspirations when it comes to mining gold. It is as though they are attempting to live their youth again and to look at it through more friendly eyes. Both men perhaps thinking that they will strike gold the second time around. This may be important as it suggests that despite being married and having children. Tom may in fact long for the freedom that came when he was mining gold in his youth with Bill. Though the reality may also be that Tom knows he cannot have his yesterday’s back and the best he can hope for is for Bill to visit and for both men to share stories from their past. A past that has had its ups and downs but which the reader suspects neither man would change. Though they may have had to struggle at times the majority of the men’s memories are happy ones. It is also interesting that Bill disappears just as quickly as he appears in the story. As do other friends of narrator’s father. As they disappear so too will the stories that the men have shared with one another. The narrator’s father’s past will soon become the narrator’s past and he too will have friends who will visit him and share stories with.