The summer of my eleventh year was a golden time. Day after day of blue skies and warm temperatures. I was unaware that the same weather which allowed me to play outside until it was dark was the cause of much anxiety to the grown-ups in my small world. The lack of any substantial rainfall for two years meant the farming community was in the grip of the worst drought since records began.
Matt, my beautiful big brother who was also like a father to me, worked at the local quarry. When he came home, covered in dust from the stone, I carried a bowl of tepid water out to him. He stood on the back porch, his bronze muscles glinting in the sunlight. I found out how powerful those muscles were when I was naughty and he had to give me a sore bum. How he hurt! The hidings were deserved and I did try to avoid getting into trouble. Honest!
Every night my mother and sister worked for an hour in the local store. That was my favourite time of all. I had Matt all to myself. We kicked a ball around the yard. Sometimes he let me help him maintain his motorbike. Matt was an excellent tutor and liked teaching me important stuff like how internal combustion engines worked and even how to change a washer on a tap.
One night I overheard him tell Mum that the quarry might be forced to lay off staff because of a drastic downturn in business. The rural economy was dependent on the weather. The drought meant that farmers were not spending. Stone for a new farm house had a very low priority.
Matt belonged to the Southern Community Players, a group of amateur actors who put on one act plays. There were competitions every year in the city. I didn't understand the theatre and when I saw my beloved brother playing the part of a Russian spy I laughed at his funny accent. Mum and Sis were on either side of me. They both dug an elbow into my ribs and shushed "Shut up!" I did. He WAS funny though,
One Saturday at breakfast Matt told us some amazing news. A British film studio was planning to shoot scenes for a feature film at the old priory. The production company comprised of Australians but the project was to be bankrolled by British and American interests. The building had been chosen because of its antiquity. I knew it was old because slates came off the roof and I was forbidden to play there.
Talking about the film made a welcome change to discussing the drought and there was some hope that the film company might spend a considerable sum of money in the district. This was dashed when it was announced the film people would be here for less than a week, mostly shooting exteriors.
Matt took me over to the priory. Cables snaked all around the old building. Hammering could be heard and everyone was extremely busy. The camera was mounted on a track and they spent a morning rehearsing the shoot.
"Hello! Who do we have here?"
The speaker was an older man with a broad Australian accent. He smiled at me and I wriggled with embarassment. Matt was out of sight talking to a lady friend. The man gently touched my head and commanded me to 'look up!' He studied me. I shuffled my feet.
"You have an interesting face. It will photograph well".
At that point Matt noticed the stranger and came over to see what he wanted with his baby brother.
"The film is set in a work house at the turn of the century", the movie man told him. "Your brother bears an uncanny resemblence to Sparky MacGuire who plays the lead". Even I knew who Sparky was. I'd seen him in countless films at our local Opera House. Rousing adventure yarns. I liked Sparky.
"I wonder if we might cast your brother as Sparky's double? We can't use his face but he has the same wiry build and, from a distance, having him walk around the exterior of the priory will help validate those scenes. Give them authenticity".
Matt was a bit dubious but I pleaded with him. When Lionel the film man offered "200 pounds per day for three days work" my big brother shook Lionel's hand on it while I had a grin from ear to ear.
"Mum!" I shouted when we returned home. "I'm going to be in the film!" She stood there wiping her hands on her apron while I shouted my news at her.
"They're paying 600 pounds, Mum", Matt said quietly. It was as if a weight had been lifted off her.
"Well of course the money must go towards The Boy's education", she said, "But I must admit it couldn't have come at a better time with all the worry about the drought and your job at the quarry". Mum gave me a hug.
The next day I was on the set at daybreak. Matt watched as the very jolly wardrobe man dressed me in a jacket and trousers. The first scene was rehearsed and I soon got bored with 'acting' and reverted to being myself instead. That, of course was exactly what Lionel and the crew had hoped for.
After lunch I was in front of the camera again, walking from one mark to the other. It had clouded over and I was surprised to feel a few spots of rain. I shivered, hunched my shoulders and pulled up the jacket collar.
"Wonderful!" boomed Lionel. "The boy's a natural".
The few spots soon turned into a downpour. The cameraman made adjustments and more artificial lighting was turned on. I kept walking or running as directed by Lionel who reckoned the rain just heightened the atmosphere.
It rained for a week. The film company had broken the drought. There were smiles on the faces of the rural folk again. I worked my three days, got soaked to the skin and had a hot bath at home each evening.
"Cut! Print it" cried Lionel one last time, ending my days in front of the camera, or so I thought. Matt banked the 600 pounds in cash which the film company had paid him.
A couple of nights later Matt was helping me construct a model of the Eiffel Tower out of Meccano when there was a knock on the door. It was Lionel.
"I have a proposition to put to you" the film man said to Matt. "It's a bit irregular. You see, the pivotal scene in 'As Beats the Heart' is between the Beadle, played by Trevor Howard, and young 'Davey' which of course is Sparky's part". Lionel looked a bit embarassed. "The scene depicts the young boy receiving a .. well .. a .. flogging". Lionel blundered on: "Sparky is a great little actor but, between you and me, he's a mummy's boy". Lionel patted his nose with a beefy forefinger. "Touch his precious backside with a cane and he'd shut down production for weeks".
Matt looked bewildered, as well he might.
"I haven't explained it very well, have I?" asked Lionel. Matt and I shook our heads simultaneously. "What we need is to have The Boy here take the flogging and, later, cut in shots of Sparky reacting".
My big brother said: "You mean actually beat him? I always thought spanking scenes in films were faked?"
"Aye, they were," said Lionel grimly, "Until they made 'Kes'. The boys in that picture were caned on their hands. For real. Now, any film which fakes corporal punishment will not have that essential authenticity which 'Kes' achieved".
Matt still looked puzzled. I said: "I think he wants to take pictures of me getting a hiding".
"That's it!" boomed Lionel. "Tell me, do you get hidings?"
I swallowed and whispered "Sometimes".
"Who gives you these hidings?"
Lionel smiled. "Excellent! He can play the stand-in for the Beadle. He's taller than Trevor but we can easily shoot around that".
My big brother looked troubled. Lionel said "Six hundred pounds for an afternoon's work".
Matt knew the family's financial position was precarious, especially if he got laid off from the quarry. He looked at Lionel. "Can you give me a minute to discuss it with The Boy"? The big man nodded and Matt took me though to our bedroom. He explained how we needed the money.
"Have you learned about credit as school?" he asked.
"Well, this will be like having a hiding credited to you. Next time you're due one ... '
"I won't get a sore bum"?
The next afternoon we returned to the priory. The film people had set up inside the former chapel. The funny dresser fussed over me. He produced a small box like a cricket player wears and taped it over my 'dangly bits'. He sniffed. "Your beautiful little bottom. Still, it will heal. Mine always did". He dressed me in a shirt and trousers.
The film crew were silent and avoided eye contact. I was beginning to feel uneasy. Matt looked very forbidding in his costume.
"Right!" a muted bellow from Lionel. "He takes his pants down and bends over that desk. Six with the cane". The film man said to me "Yell as loud as you want. OK? Good lad!"
Hidings at home were painful affairs which involved a razor strop being applied with some force to my bare backside. I had never been caned.
"Let's get this in one take", said Lionel. Roll them! And.. Action!"
My big brother looked grim. "Unbutton!"
Slowly I undid the clasp. My fingers were shaking. The pants fell around my ankles. I bent over the desk. I felt the stick push my shirt-tail clear of the target. There was a sudden rush of air and a thud! as the rattan connected with my bare bottom. For a second I felt nothing but then my boy-orbs were engulfed in flames, the pain literally knocked the breath out of me.
"Aaaagggh!" The hurt was frightful.
"Aaaggggggghh!" Every instinct urged me to flee but then I thought of that poncey Sparky who was safely 12,000 miles away. This colonial boy would take his hiding for him! The crew were silent. Every eye was on the age-old ritual being acted out before them.
"Aaaaaaaaagh!" It was like having a white-hot bar seared into my pre-pubescent rump.
"AAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGHHHH!" I shrieked and slumped forward onto the desk. There was a deathly silence and then Lionel shouted "Cut!"
The dresser rushed forward with a robe. Matt hugged me so tight while quietly praising me for being a 'brave boy'.
The director checked with camera and sound and all was ok. No re-takes were necessary which was just as well because my bum was in no state to take any more punishment. Matt's big hand rubbed each swollen bum-cheek which eased the stinging hurt. Lionel handed over six hundred pounds to Matt and we went home. I had a most uncomfortable ride in the sidecar attached to Matt's big motorbike. That night as I lay in bed on my tummy, I heard Matt's bed-springs set up their jangling rhythm and wondered what he was doing to make that strange sound?
It was nearly a year later before 'As Beats the Heart' turned up at our Opera House. The house lights dimmed and the film started. It soon became apparent that the producers had changed the plot from a serious drama to a frivolous comedy. When the big caning scene arrived it was my bum that was being beaten alright but the film kept cutting to Sparky's face and he was laughing hysterically. Each hard whack just produced a louder laugh from Sparky. The audience roared with him. I was disgusted!
Matt would have been horrified if he'd found out that a pirate film of the thrashing had been distributed, complete with my screams of distress and close-ups of him grimly slashing that wicked cane across my tiny buttocks. A camera lingered on my tear-stained face. It made far more money than 'As Beats the Heart' ever did and even now is regarded as something of a classic.