A good book is, in many ways, like a good conversation. It engages with ideas in a way that leaves you energised, knowing more than you did when you began – but still thinking and questioning. Maybe that’s why we at Wakefield feel a special affinity with the Adelaide Festival of Ideas.
In the lead-up to the full festival program announcement in a few weeks, we’re remembering an event from this time last year that shone a spotlight on the home of the blizzard: Antarctica: Past, Present and Futures. Paleontologist John Long, writer Sean Williams and director of the Royal Society of South Australia, Paul Willis, each shared their experiences in Antarctica.
To discover more about Antarctica for yourself, why not burrow into one of our gripping true Antarctic stories? Preferably under a blanket or by the fire!
Sir Douglas Mawson
A classic tale of discovery and adventure by a bona fide Australian hero, this has been called ‘one of the greatest accounts of polar survival in history’ by Sir Ranulph Fiennes.
This is Mawson’s own account of his years spent in sub-zero temperatures and gale-force winds, of pioneering deeds, great courage, heart-stopping rescues and heroic endurance. At its heart is the epic journey of 1912-13, during which both his companions perished.
This is the classic account of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated Antarctic expedition of 1914-16, told by Frank Worsley, captain of the expedition ship, Endurance.
First trapped then crushed by ice, the Endurance drifted in an ice floe for five months before reaching the barren and inhospitable Elephant Island, leaving 22 men there while Shackleton, Worsley and four others made the 800-mile journey to get help.
Braving hurricane-force winds, fifty-foot waves and sub-zero temperatures, this is an extraordinary story of survival.
This fascinating biography of the first Australian-born member of an Antarctic expedition gives a new perspective on one of the great polar expeditions.
As an expert horseman, Bertram Armytage was given charge of the ponies in Ernest Shackleton’s great 1907-1909 polar expedition, during which he narrowly escaped the jaws of killer whales. In London, he was decorated by royalty for his achievements. But then, aged just 41, back on home ground, he shot himself in his part-time residence of the Melbourne Club. This is his story.
Granville Allen Mawer
The race for the South Magnetic Pole started in the fabled Northwest Passage, when rival French, American and British expeditions were sent to find it in 1840-41. At the turn of the century, it defeated their successors, Shackleton and Mawson. It wasn’t until 1986 that Australian scientists finally found it, after a marathon, multi-expedition hunt that collectively unveiled much of Greater Antarctica along the way.
Books available at www.wakefieldpress.com.au and from good bookshops everywhere.
Wild Asparagus, Wild Strawberries
France bewitched Barbara Santich as a student in the early 1970s. She vowed to return, and soon enough she did – with husband and infant twins in tow.
Wild Asparagus, Wild Strawberries tells the story of the magical two years that followed. Buoyed by naive enthusiasm, Barbara and her husband launched themselves into French village life, a world of winemaking, rabbit raising, cherry picking and exuberant 14 Juillet celebrations.
Here we see the awakening of Barbara Santich’s lifelong love affair with food history, and also a lost France, ‘when the 19th century almost touched hands with the 21st’. Shepherds still led their flocks to pasture each day and, even near the bustling towns, wild strawberries hid at the forest’s edge.
I drank Normandy farmhouse cider, ate strawberries dipped in red wine then sugar, and tasted truffles and soft goat cheeses for the first time. I returned to Australia inspired to become a food writer.
Join us for the launch of Wild Asparagus, Wild Strawberries: Two years in France at the Wakefield Press bookshop on Saturday May 5. The afternoon will begin at 2 pm and end at 5pm, with the book being launched by Amanda McInerny early in the afternoon.
Drinks and light nibbles will be provided, and you can enjoy 20% off all Wakefield Press titles (excluding Wild Asparagus, Wild Strawberries).
Please RSVP by Monday April 30 to email@example.com
If you are unable to attend the launch, but wish to purchase a copy of the book, you can visit us at our Mile End bookshop or find the book online.
For just over 100 years an institution for the mentally ill has stood on little Peat Island, in the lower Hawkesbury.
It was decommissioned in 2010; quite empty now, it remains a locked facility just as it had always been. And eerie.
The last residents were dispersed into the wider community. In this, they echoed the fate of the Darkinjung people, original custodians of this country – their community was scattered just as intentionally, and effectively, if not quite so brutally. It is not one of the New South Wales government’s finest accomplishments.
For all the unhappiness associated with it, Peat Island was home for more than 3000 residents, males only for the first half of its modern history. Over time, it became a happier place, even as the facility itself aged, fell into disrepair, and became a bureaucratic nightmare and a political football.
This is its sorry story.
Read an extract:
With the cessation of hospital care at Milson Island, everything devolved to Peat Island; so the hospital became Peat Island Hospital, plain and simple. Nothing whatsoever about identifying its purpose, nothing about mental care. As though not saying what service it performed disguised what in fact it was. Was this another of the Peter Pan episodes, breaking away from the shadows, expunging them?
With that closure, plans were drawn up to modernise the wards on Peat Island. Which is more public service speak. It meant that somehow even more beds had to be fitted in to help with the accommodation. Not everyone from Milson stayed on Peat, though, not by a long shot. Residents were sent here, there and everywhere. In cohesive groups, admittedly, not sprinkled throughout institutions all over the state. But in different directions nevertheless.
One consequence of the dispersal of the patients was that those parents who had taken an interest in the Parents and Citizens Association followed their sons to wherever their new placement was, and as it happened that took away the most active and interested members. Their bimonthly journal, News and Views, ceased. So too did the regular news sheet, The Islander. These had been making a very real difference to the range and quality of experience available to their children, and to the communal spirit of those connected with the hospital; but those who had been most productive had gone their separate ways.
A different kind of dispersal was also under way. It did not involve large numbers, but the Health Department was intent upon returning patients to care in the community – to their parents if that were possible, or to small-scale specialist hostels. That is what Dr Lindsay had been foreshadowing to the parent groups. Cottages with improved plumbing, and warm showers. At least these residents would have their own room, and some privacy. That, it might be recalled, was the way it should have been right from the beginning at Rabbit Island, for precisely that element had been designed into the original arrangement of the wards. But it had never eventuated. The powers that be had ridden roughshod over those enlightened plans. From day one the authorities had failed their own brief.
The dispersal of patients back into the community was not a triumph of rehabilitation, however. Years later David Richmond was quite frank about that. ‘Contrary to the misconceptions of some, a significant exodus from institutional care through bed number reductions had already occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, well before the report, largely to meet budget pressure on the institutions’. Not, it is to be noted, because of an impulse towards humane reform. The bottom line was the budget, not the needs of those in the government’s care. To him and the other bureaucrats they were ‘beds’, not people. Beans to be counted.
The year 1973 was a pivotal one for many people. Minister Jago, for example, forgot to nominate for his own seat, Gordon, in time for the state election. He was replaced as minister by John Waddy, member for Kirribilli for only the next two years; because Waddy resigned when his own constituency denied him preselection.
Jago had set in place a reform which came into effect in that same year, 1973, consequent upon an act passed in parliament in the preceding year. A Health Commission would resume the responsibilities of the Health Department, the Hospitals Commission and the Ambulance Service. Dr Barclay was elevated to the role of Commissioner for Personal Health Services, meaning the combination of mental health and public health. With this ongoing restructuring and renaming, the wonder is that anyone could make sense of what was going on. The endless changes implied instability rather than progressive reform. Nobody seemed quite able to make up their mind. Head Office indeed.
Peat Island: Dreaming and desecration will launch in Sydney on April 29. For more information about the launch, you can get in touch with us here. To purchase the book, visit us in our Mile End book shop or find it online.
Big Rough Stones
They surged across King William Street, around and up onto the bronze Boer War horseman at the corner of North Terrace. Ro linked arms with the woman next to her. ‘Take the toys from the boys’, they sang. The hero almost disappeared under a festoon of women, but clung valiantly to his rifle, bronze upper lip stiff. It was his horse who looked most horrified.
Meet Ro at thirty-something. She is committed to cures for every ill from monogamy to orange armpit fungus. Her ambitions are passionate, her energy boundless, her intentions generally good …
Thirty years later, are the edges any smoother?
‘You thought feminism would stop violence against women,’ said Julia. ‘And that would stop war. And stop people trashing the Earth. You tried.’
‘Not alone,’ said Ro modestly. ‘I had help.’
This is a story of community, friendship, sisterhood, and the coming of age that continues all our lives.
Read an extract of Big Rough Stones below.
The road was narrower now and soon began to twist. Trees met overhead. Valleys, green with tree ferns, fell away beside the car. They turned off onto a dirt road that became little more than a track through a gap in the towering forest. Gerry stopped the ute in front of a battered wooden gate.
‘I’ll do it,’ said Ro, reaching for the door handle.
‘I’d better. It’s a bit temperamental.’ Gerry jumped out and Ro watched as she unlatched the gate and lifted it slightly so that it could swing. The gate posts stuck out at odd angles. Ro wound down her window and breathed in the late afternoon air, eucalypt, a touch of smoke and a dark coolness that would be mist in the hollows by nightfall.
‘I’ll have to go straight over to Steve’s and see what’s happening with Lark. Might have to borrow Steve’s float to bring her back.’ Gerry looked up at the sky, gauging the angle of the sun. ‘Or maybe wait till morning for that. But I have to go and see. Thought you could stay here and get the fire going. It’ll be cold tonight.’
The track wound round the side of a steep hill through orchard trees, bright green against the dark background of the forest. They passed a clutter of sheds and curved round to a cup-shaped hollow in the hillside.
‘Here we are,’ Gerry said, voice nervous. ‘I’m still working on it.’
It was a small fibro shack with a chimney pipe sticking out the top. Nothing was square or symmetrical. On one side a lean-to slid down into an apple tree. On the other side a smaller shack was connected by a roofed-in walkway. All three structures were propped up by tanks. The overall effect was fungal, a strange grey mushroom that had sprung from the hillside and was now subsiding back into it again.
But this was not an abandoned ruin. When Ro looked more closely she could see evidence of loving attention. One side of the main shack had been opened out, the wall replaced with stained glass windows at various heights. In front of the house one of the few flat areas had been paved with old bricks. Garden table and chairs had been painted a neat green.
‘It’s beautiful,’ Ro said, moved by the signs of careful work, prepared to embrace any amount of rustic charm.
Gerry eased the tarp off the back of the ute and lifted their packs out.
‘Dot and Maria live the other side of the hill. There a track to their place further along the road. You’ll see tomorrow.’
The house was not locked. Gerry pointed out a basket of kindling, chopped wood and the old Metters stove.
‘What say you light the stove? I won’t be long,’ she said. ‘Oh, and I’ll bring Hester back. Okay?’
Without waiting for an answer she backed out. Ro heard the engine cough into life and the ute recede up the track. She sank into the one armchair. Hester? She, Ro, must have made a mistake. This wasn’t a seduction scene at all, not with someone called Hester staying here as well. The space was tiny.
Surely she hadn’t made the live-in girlfriend mistake? One of the worst in the available range of seduction mistakes, most of which Ro had made. The very worst was to come on to a woman, assuming she was a dyke, and find she was straight. The discovery of a live-in girlfriend wasn’t as bad as that, but disappointing enough.
Her radar couldn’t be that faulty. She and Gerry hadn’t actually discussed it, but none of the signs pointed to a live-in lover. And everyone she’d asked had spoken of Gerry as if she was single.
Now that she came to think about it, Ro wasn’t sure that she herself had mentioned Sascha. That would have to be dealt with. She dismissed the idea quickly. Tomorrow.
Another thought struck her. Could Hester be a daughter? Ro’s heart sank. That would be worse than anything. Gerry looked an unlikely sort for a mother, but who could tell?
Ro jumped to her feet and pushed open the door of the lean-to. Bathroom. And a window in the right place so that you could sit in the bath and look out into the branches of a tree. A chip heater, but no toilet. Must be outside.
She crossed the main room to the walkway and passed through into the one bedroom. The bed was a chipboard platform on milk crates with a mattress on top. No sign of toys or kids’ clothes. Oh well. She’d find out soon enough.
Big Rough Stones is Margaret’s third book with Wakefield Press. Margaret’s previous novel, The First Week (2013) won the Unpublished Manuscript Award at Adelaide Writers’ Week, and then was shortlisted for the Barbara Jefferis Award, the NSW Premier’s Award and the Onkaparinga People’s Choice Award. In 2014, Wakefield Press published her Fables Queer and Familiar, illustrated by Chia Moan. The ‘Fables’ started out as an online serial and they have also been broadcast around the country as a radio serial.
Join us for the launch of Big Rough Stones by Chia Moan at The Joinery on Friday 13 April from 6pm. If you are unable to attend the launch, but would like a copy of the book, visit us at our Rose street bookshop or find it online.
Kieran Modra: The way I see it
What becomes of a country lad who loves daredevil adventure, only to discover that he is slowly losing his sight?
What courage does it take for him to pursue his dream of becoming an elite athlete representing his country?
Kieran Modra’s inspiring story tells us about a shy country boy in a city boarding school, an adolescent struggling with his identity as he comes to terms with a disability, and the Australian athlete standing atop a dais as he accepts his gold medal.
Read an extract of the book below, where Kieran is struggling with authority and resting on a team trip in Avezzano, Italy.
For three years in a row the Australian para-cycling squad trained in Avezzano, Italy. Avezanno once lay on the shores of Lake Fucino, Italy’s largest lake, which was drained in the late 19th century. After the land was reclaimed, the city grew and wide fields became available for cultivation. The city was destroyed in 1915 by possibly the worst earthquake in the history of Italy with 30,000 fatalities. Kevin McIntosh remembers the town with affection:
Avezzano was an outdoor track, a good environment to train and we were welcomed every year by the community. The mayor and the city council would greet us when we arrived. There was always an exchanging of flags and gifts to make it official that we were honoured guests of the town. When we went into town for an ice cream or coffee, it was often free. It was a comfortable environment and there were few complaints, although there were always athletes who made it harder for the other athletes, and for us as coaches and officials.
Needing time to myself, I enjoyed exploring this area, even without permission from the Australian team officials. The only time I could do this was on ‘rest days’. The surrounding mountains are steep and beautiful, with pretty walking trails. I found rest days hard to handle, so at my first camp there, I decided to get up very early and (without telling anyone) take the tandem for a ride by myself. I found a mountain road that went almost straight up and decided that I needed to get to the top. For at least two hours I rode very slowly up the mountain road and after reaching the summit, it was time to descend. Realising that if either the bike or the rider was damaged in any way there would be big trouble, I took it very easy coming down. It was fun riding on the opposite side of the road to our Australian way and I was delighted that no one had missed the tandem or me when I got back to our hotel. The following year I took hiking boots to walk the trails. On another rest day, and without telling anyone, I decided to climb a different mountain. It took hours to get to the base and I started climbing straight up. After four hours I had passed all vegetation and had come to an area of only shale and rock. About to give up, I saw another climber and followed him to the top, where we rang the bell on the summit. From the top we could see a severe storm approaching, so to get down quickly my new friend took me down the dangerous shale side, where we ran and slid our way to the bottom in about 20 minutes. It was exhilarating, and thankfully the friendly climber returned me to our hotel by car. Although very sore, I tried not to show it, and being a rest day, I thought my coach hadn’t missed me. But the story got out when I showed the video that I took of my escapade to ‘friends’ and the masseurs noticed all my scratches and bruises and began asking questions!
Kieran’s coach had missed him:
There was a balance in getting Kieran to do what he needed to do, and stopping him from doing what he wanted to do. A good example is the way Kieran treated the recovery days. These are critical and after one recovery day in Italy I went to have a chat. It went like this:
‘Kieran … how was your day off yesterday? I didn’t see you around. Did you spend most of it in bed?’
(After a short pause.) ‘Yeahhhhh.’
‘Tell me more. I can’t see you staying in bed all day. Did you go for a walk?’
‘Oh, where did you go? Did you walk into town?’
‘Kieran, I know where you went!’
If ever you get to see the video, it is clear that Kieran didn’t slide down the mountain … more like rolled down it! On the video you see the legs going faster and faster … and then it goes sky … earth … sky … earth … sky … earth. So we had to have a little chat about the recovery process. But at the end of the day he always turned up and performed. Kerry was the complete opposite. She generally did what we asked her to do … but she couldn’t control Kieran either.
Join us for the launch of Kieran Modra: The way I see it on Tuesday April 10 at Lexus of Adelaide from 6 pm. RSVP by April 8 to secure your place at the launch. If you are unable to attend the launch, but would like a copy of the book (RRP $34.95), you can visit us at our Rose street bookshop, or find the book online.
A macabre murder during the Women’s Australian Open golf tournament at one of Australia’s most prestigious golf courses sees food and wine journalist and amateur golfer Rebecca Keith on the murder trail once more. Fortunately, Rebecca’s sleuthing takes her on a journey of eating and drinking through many of Adelaide’s bars and restaurants. Little does Rebecca know that her visits to nearby Barossa Valley and Kangaroo Island will reveal clues that will become crucial in the hunt for a killer.
A Royal Murder, a light-hearted thriller full of intrigue and betrayal, features a full cast of eccentric characters set against the rich backdrop of South Australia and its lush food and wine culture.
Read an extract of the book below, as our heroine, Rebecca Keith, is first on the scene of a grisly discovery at the Royal Adelaide golf course.
The Adelaide-to-Grange Line
Rebecca had drunk more than she should have. When the phone alarm went off at five o’clock, she had to stop herself from flinging it across the room. She listened to the news and weather on the radio.
She couldn’t face breakfast and instead spent the extra time in the shower.
It was just before seven o’clock as she walked alongside the railway tracks at Royal Adelaide, heading to her position on the second tee. The course was again bathed in a golden glow. Her footsteps left imprints on the fairway still damp from the overnight watering.
Rebecca heard the train’s whistle, signalling it was about to pull off from the Seaton Park station. She could hear the ding of the boom gates. Within a couple of minutes, she saw the train in the distance as it emerged from the bushes by the fence line and started its journey alongside the fairway. Rebecca was surprised when she heard the train’s whistle again. It startled her. Something was wrong. The train only whistled as it approached walk-crossings on the golf course, and it wouldn’t be approaching one for a few hundred metres. It shouldn’t be sounding its whistle now, nor should it be putting on its brakes. She could tell by the screeching that the train was stopping hard. Rebecca looked along the tracks and spotted a large red duffle-like bag sitting squarely in the train’s path. There wasn’t enough time to stop. She watched as the red bag was flung aside, rolled down the embankment, and came to rest just on the edge of the fairway.
Rebecca stood up and started to jog toward the train. Before she reached it, the driver jumped out of the cab and ran toward the red bag. He looked distressed. Within moments, Rebecca was standing next to him and they were both looking at a bloodied, severed arm lying a couple of metres from the torn bag. The duffle bag appeared to be made from expensive silk, embossed with what Rebecca thought was Chinese calligraphy. She was in no doubt the rest of the body was in the bag. The protruding bloodied leg was a giveaway.
‘Oh my God,’ moaned the train driver as he lowered himself to a crouch on the ground, resting his head in his hands. Rebecca was pretty sure whoever was in the bag was dead, but she needed to know for certain. She walked up to it, undid the drawstring at the top, and gently lowered the silk to uncover the victim’s lacerated face. Rebecca stared. The glazed lifeless eyes appeared to be gazing up to the sky. Rebecca not only knew the victim was dead, she also knew who it was.
Join us at the Beetson Lounge at Grange golf club at 1.00 pm on Tuesday 13 February for the launch of A Royal Murder, in conjunction with the re-release of the first Rebecca Keith mystery, The Popeye Murder. If you cannot attend the launch, but would like to purchase a copy of the books, they can be found on our website, coming soon!
Valour and Violets, the latest release from Wakefield Press, is a meticulously researched catalogue of the stories of hundreds of South Australians who gave their country everything.
Close to 35,000 South Australians enlisted for service overseas during the Great War. Around 5500 never came back. Countless more returned with physical and psychological injuries that would affect them for the rest of their lives.
Valour and Violets brings together for the first time the stories of the campaigns and battles in which South Australians served, set against the backdrop of the South Australian home front. Here are the stories of Frederick Prentice, the first of three Indigenous South Australians to be awarded the Military Medal; Thomas Baker, the gunner who became an ace pilot; and Sister Margaret Graham, awarded the Royal Red Cross for her contribution to army nursing. Here too are lesser known stories, such as that of Alexandrina Seager, who formed the Cheer-Up Society back home and worked every single day during the war, despite losing her youngest son at Gallipoli. Or Clara Weaver of Rosewater, who not only lost five sons to the war but also her husband, George, who died at home before the war ended.
Drawing on the work of the many who have written on the subject previously,Valour and Violets provides a wholly South Australian perspective on the impact of the Great War on individuals, on families and on our state’s coastal, regional, and outback communities.
Copies are available online, and from our bookshop in Mile End.
Special thanks to Veterans SA.
Wendy Scarfe’s second novel, The Day They Shot Edward, tells a tale of a family in turmoil, set against the political mess of the First World War. Told from the perspective of a nine-year-old Matthew, the narration has an air of innocence, making the horrors of what is to come all the more confronting.
About the book:
It is 1916. The Australian community is riven over a referendum to conscript more troops for the killing fields of Europe. Nine-year-old Matthew’s family, divided politically and sinking into poverty, reflects the social conflict. Handsome, generous Edward is at the centre of the family friction. Gran hates the war as Edward does, Mother flirts with him to escape the misery of her marriage, and young Matthew adores him.
As patriotic frenzy takes hold, police informers spy on Edward and track his anti-conscription activities. Sabotage and anarchism are meaningless words to Matthew. Absorbed in childhood fantasies, he is unaware that he too is helping draw the net around Edward. It is left to Matthew’s German headmaster to teach him that, like music, people grow with love.
Praise for The Day They Shot Edward:
‘The Day They Shot Edward is a beautiful and compassionate story. The deep sense of mystery and heightened awareness of emotion, which are the spiritual gifts of the child, become lenses for examining fundamental issues of life, death, peace, and what it means to love.’ – Di Bretherton
Praise for Wendy Scarfe’s Hunger Town:
‘A powerful evocation of an era which is soon to lose the last of its witnesses … trust me, it is a compelling page-turner; it’s riveting reading.’ – Lisa Hill, ANZ Litlovers
The Day They Shot Edward is being launched at Brightbird Espresso in Warrnambool on Tuesday 13 February. For more information, visit our website.
Life as a fifteen-year-old boy is difficult for Sandy Douglas, who’s not only facing the challenges of girls and friendship, but battling the gut-wrenching grief that came from losing his mother.
With his brother Red, who is constantly filled to the brim with rage and his dad, who, despite his best efforts, struggles with their situation, Sandy endeavours to define himself in the Mallee.
Below is the first chapter of Mallee Boys. To read more, or to purchase the book, follow the link to our website, or visit us at our Mile End bookshop.
Chapter 1: Sandy
New Year’s Day
You know, when you walk into a murky river you could step on anything. I’ve never understood how easily some people will just leap on in when they can’t see a thing. I suppose it’s like life; maybe I could do with just stepping in more and looking less.
We’re staying at Uncle Blakey’s shack. We’ve been coming up here every summer for years. The breeze is baking today but at least the air is moving. It’s too hot to even go for a walk, almost too hot to swim, but the lure of the river is tempting, so I’m thinking about it.
‘Sandy, get your arse in here. It’s fine!’ Dad’s yelling from way out in the water.
He’s bright red. His big bald head bobbing on his big round body. A cheerful, bloody snowman. For a farmer he’s a surprisingly good swimmer. In fact he loves it. When we’re at the shack he gets up early and swims for hours against the flow and then drifts back with the current.
I decide to go in.
I wanna be part of the crowd.
The river is a soft brown colour, a perfect mix of water and mud. There’s absolutely no possibility of seeing anything. The mud squelches between my toes as I inch away from the bank. I’ve deliberately chosen the least reedy stretch but even here I can still feel the slippery stalks stroking my legs. I launch off. I’m not out very deep so the slimy bottom skims my bare chest. Yuck. I kick faster and harder to get away.
I swim like a dog, my neck stuck out as far from the water as I can manage.
‘Put your head in, Sandy!’ I can hear Dad heckling me before he fearlessly ducks down.
No way. Walking and swimming in this is bad enough without getting my head in.
I remember when I was learning to swim Dad used to hold me under and I never really got over it. ‘I’m gonna count to three. Here we go. One … two … three.’ His voice was all muffled as he pushed my head down. My body arched hard against his hand, pressing up, praying he wouldn’t mess up the count. So now that I can swim I never put my head in.
The water is cool and it does feel good. I feel clean, washed free of the summer dust. I roll over onto my back. I’d forgotten, since last summer, how nice it is just to float. To let something else do the work.
Dad’s shouting for me to swim over to him but I pretend I can’t hear him. I know if I go over he’ll start tossing me around and pulling my legs under. Then my head will be in for sure. I can hear laughing. Uncle Blakey and Big Joe Barrel have jumped in. They’re all splashing and carrying on, three old farmers acting younger than me.
‘That boy’s got an old head on young shoulders.’ If I had a dollar every time someone said that about me I’d be pretty cashed up by now. Apparently my mum, Ellie, even said it about me when I was baby. I didn’t have those weird rolling eyes that most babies had. I just looked hard and straight at her with my clear blue ones, which never did turn brown like the rest of them. So, why the bloody hell did they call me Sandy?
Think of someone called Sandy and I bet they couldn’t look less me. For a start I’m a boy. I was told the name comes from some rellie back in Scotland but secretly I think it comes from Dad’s first dog. So do I have blond or red hair? No. Do I have a big friendly smile? Nah, not really. My eyes are still blue, my hair nearly black and I’m tall but not filled out yet. I do smile but it’s one of those shy, less-teeth-showy smiles. I’ve left that to my older brother Red. His real name is Josh. Imagine him: a big handsome redhead.
So, un-sandy Sandy I am.
‘Get back over here, mate!’ Blakey calls.
I’m not going over to them. They wanna duck me, for a laugh. I push the back of my head deeper into the water and scull away from them, cocooned in the muffled silence. I don’t really think of sculling as swimming. It’s keeping me up but it’s more like flying, using little flaps of my hands as I look at the sky.
I’ll be sixteen in July, and Year Ten starts in a few weeks. I can’t believe it. This year is a big one, the last before things really change. Our country school is too small to offer much choice in Year Eleven and Twelve. We either have to leave, do some correspondence study – like that’ll ever happen – or go to boarding school in Adelaide or Melbourne.
I decided long ago I wasn’t going to Melbourne: too many bad memories. I flap out a little further into the river. What the hell am I gonna do next year?
I quite like school, not that I’d tell anyone, especially Red. He couldn’t wait to get out of the place and caused a lot of trouble on his way through too. But for me it’s been alright, once they realised I was nothing like my brother. I like looking at things, taking them apart, trying to figure out how everything works. It doesn’t seem hard. In a funny kind of way school makes more sense than a lot of outside stuff.
Dad’s yelling at me. Off they go again. I can hear them all
through the heavy wet.
‘Sandy, shift your arse! Quick! Hurry up!’
The tone is unusual, not the normal knockabout teasing. There’s a bit more urgency.
I roll over onto my stomach and then I see it. What the hell?
‘Sandy, get out of the way!’ But the warning is too late. The big brown thing is gonna hit me.
I launch into a pathetic dog paddle trying to get away. My legs kick in a frenzy beneath me and my neck stretches out like a llama. I feel a bash on the back on my head and it pushes me under. All the shouting from the bank softens. My heart is pounding as old memories of being ducked as a kid kick in. I can’t get the thing off me. I can’t see anything. I push up with my hands and they find something soft but really heavy. My head keeps butting up into it, trying to ram a way through. I panic. My brain doesn’t know what to do. My lungs are bursting. I’m desperate for a suck of clean, fresh air but don’t dare open my mouth. The burning is excruciating.
I can’t believe I’m gonna drown. Not today, surely?
There’s a jerk on the bottom of my legs. Something is yanking me under. This is too much. I can’t fight it anymore. I surrender with one last kick and then my mouth opens, hungrily gulping in water. My body wants it like air and it pours in.
There’s a bashing on my back, heavy and urgent, shaking me around. I’m floppy, with no resistance. My body stiffens. Rigid. Then the water comes splaying out of my throat and my chest heaves as it sucks in real air. Too desperate, I cough and splutter. I’ve got no control. My mouth sucking too hard competes against the spasms of my lungs spewing the water out. Eventually the craving and the coughing subsides enough and my heart settles.
Exhausted, I take a calmer breath. As I open my eyes I see I’m still in the river.
‘Ya right? Ya right?’
It’s Dad. He turns me round to face him, holding me afloat. I see how terrified he is. He hugs me so tight I start coughing again.
‘Bloody idiot, I had to bash the crap out of you.’
But there are tears in his eyes. He just holds me safe and strong till I settle. As his panic and mine begin to subside, he pushes me away slightly. It seems a bit awkward now for a grown lad to be clinging to his wet Dad in the middle of the river. We both get it at the same time and grin.
‘You’ve always been a crap swimmer, Sandy. Sometimes you get so lost in your own bloody head you don’t know what’s going on around you.’
‘Was it a log or something?’ I ask. ‘I just didn’t see it coming.’
‘No, it was a bloody dead cow! Looks like it died upstream and got washed down.’
I hear cheers and moos from the bank. Looking down the river I see the dead cow.
Bloated, floating and limp from trying to kill me.
Available as both a paperback and ebook, Mallee Boys is the winner of the 2016 Adelaide Festival Unpublished Manuscript Award. It is Charlie Archbold’s first publication inspired by her time living in the Murray Mallee region in Australia.
Remembered for his contributions to music and his courage in being Australia’s first celebrity to reveal his struggle with HIV-AIDS, Close to the Flame is an homage to a humble and hardworking genius:
Stuart Challender had already proved himself as the most talented conductor of his generation, with invitations beginning to flow in to conduct renowned international orchestras, when he was diagnosed with AIDS . Bravely, he chose to become Australia’s first celebrity to reveal his struggle with the disease to the public.
A new definitive biography of Challender, Close to the Flame, explores his remarkable career, cut short when he was only forty-four years old.
Challender joined Opera Australia after twelve years of study and work in European opera houses. He was then taken up by the ABC and appointed artistic director and chief conductor of Australia’s leading orchestra, the Sydney Symphony.
Challender was a great champion of the music of contemporary Australian composers and responsible for the premieres of many important Australian works. In his final years, Challender struggled to continue to work while disease ravaged his body. His decision to go public about his condition brings the story to a moving conclusion.
A review by Matthew Westwood of The Australian reveals the depth of the impact Challender had on music in Australia in his short-lived career:
‘Challender’s legacy lives on in a few cherished recordings, not least his performances of Voss, orchestral music by Peter Scul–thorpe and Carl Vine, and Mahler’s Resurrection symphony. And there’s a little bit of Challender on the hour at the head of ABC news bulletins. The Majestic Fanfare is the arrangement by Richard Mills, performed by the SSO in 1988, with Challender conducting.’
Close to the Flame – Richards Davis’s fourth in a line of Australian classical music biographies – is not only a vital piece of Australian musical history, but an inspiring story of courage in adversity.
Close to the Flame (RRP$45.00) is available for purchase online, or from our Mile End bookshop.