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THE DAY THE great man sang, heat blazed in haloes over Bennelong Point. This is what Pearl will remember later, this is what she will say: that his voice turned the air holy. Men, sweat-slicked, stood with bowed heads or hung off scaffolds, swatting at flies and tears. Few looked at the singer; they needed all their senses to hear. Needed their whole bodies, skin and eyes and hearts, to absorb what they couldn’t say: that sacredness had returned to this place. It flowed through them on a single human voice, through their bodies and the building that was rising beneath their hands.

Pearl stood with the other journalists, and watched the men grow luminous. Wept as she understood: that it wasn’t the building or the place Robeson had sanctified, but the labour. The valour of it. The modest hearts of workers. In his songs, in the faces of... Read more

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From Griffith Review Edition 58: Storied Lives – The Novella Project V © Copyright Griffith University & the author.

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