Alighting from her horse drawn carriage, Harriet Deane is rendered speechless as she stands on the edge of the street. Shading her brow with one gloved hand, and holding her hat on her head with the other, she leans her head back and stares up at the stupendous view of masonry and stone that invades the bright blue October sky above. The monumental façade of St. Stephen’s Cathedral, dressed in stained glass and towering spires, is like nothing she has seen in her 26 years.
1902 was an exciting year in Queensland’s capital of Brisbane. She was bestowed the status of “city”; she welcomed home the last survivors of the Boer War; and she saw the first motor car on her streets. Arriving from the developing sea port of Townsville in North Queensland for their daughter’s wedding that year, the Deane Family found themselves in a world of old versus new.
The sprawling inner city streets, lined with towering buildings taller and grander than anything they had ever seen, were rumbling with horse drawn carriages and buses, as well as electric trams that rattled along rail tracks, back and forth from morning to dusk. The vibrancy of the city noises; the shops brimming with fancy wares and the multitude of townsfolk dressed in their finery, presented a new world for these country folk from North Queensland.
Brisbane was also a new world for Harriet. Her impending marriage to William Lyons meant she had to relinquish any teaching career aspirations she may have had, in exchange for the life of a soldier’s wife. As it does, love overruled any doubts she may have had.
The few steps leading from the footpath to the forecourt of the Cathedral are her first official steps of her new journey. Although, it is a journey that began from the moment she said ‘yes’ to William’s proposal. She is amazed how a simple three letter word prompted so many changes to her life. In a space of weeks, she has resigned from her teaching position, packed up her life as she knew it and left her family’s home in Townsville for Brisbane which she finds strangely overwhelming.
Upon reaching the top of the stairs, she preens her ruffled skirt and checks that her hat of frothy net and floral blooms is firmly secured on her nest of auburn hair. The sun is beating down on her diminutive form with a fierceness that begs her to loosen her tightly corseted bodice. “What can I do? There is no time,” she reminds herself, trying to dissuade her bouquet from shaking, clasping it tightly between both hands. Hearing the soft notes of the church organ calling through the Cathedral door, first whispering, then begging for her to enter, she knows it is too late to turn back.
“Cis, you look beautiful,” her Father reassures his daughter in his Irish brogue and bends forward offering his arm.
Cis looks up at her Father, managing a feint smile, and takes his arm in her own, feeling his formidable strength through his dark suit coat. She knows that he and Mother took surmountable risks from the moment they left Ireland in search for a new and better life in Australia. She has learnt from her Father to never look back; just keep marching forward. Feeling empowered by this forthright, bearlike man by her side, she is ready to face whatever the world throws her way. “This is a day of new beginnings!” she reminds herself.
“Okay, Father,” she announces. “I’m ready.”
“Are ya sure now?” he asks with a grin.
“Of course I’m sure!” she retorts.
As George Deane and his daughter pass through the imposing arched threshold of the Cathedral, the organ pipes begin to explode from the sounds of Wagner soaring to the heavenly realms of the timber vaulted ceilings and back, in a crescendo of joyful bars, chords and notes, as God welcomes them into his house.
Cis, in her frock of ruffles and bows, moves with slow deliberation in unison with her father’s steps. They follow the long central aisle that separates the pews, passing row after row of smiling faces of family and friends; passing the colonnades of arches whose chorus of high pitched voices peaks to heaven’s wondrous beat. Cis feels the momentousness of her journey, as she disappears into the magnificence of the cathedral; deep into the abyss of the unknown.
The organ lowers its voice to a simmering lilt and Cis notices William for the first time. His beaming face is watching his new bride. Her father guides her to a place beside her husband to be, facing Father O’Reilly who is standing, hands clasped, in readiness to assist both William and she in the rite of passage as man and wife.
Overcome by quietness, the Cathedral echoes with Father O’Reilly’s voice as he ceremoniously delivers the mass. Both the bride and groom are oblivious to the guardian angels’ concerned faces looking down from their stained glass home above. They are blissfully unaware of Christ, sacrificing his life on a giant cross that casts a shadow upon the place where they stand. Caught in the solemnity of the moment, for better and for worse, they both willingly agree to face life’s challenges together, whatever they may be.