An extract from The Hounded by Simon Butters

Over two weeks we’re sharing summaries of and extracts from some Wakefield Press gems, in blog posts put together by work experience student Maddy. (And yes, we briefly had two Maddys in the office! Never enough Maddys, we say.)

In this extract from The Hounded, Monty finds himself alone with beautiful Eliza from next door, and in her bedroom no less …

 

“You enjoyed it, didn’t you? Watching her suffer like that?”

The Hounded

“What if I did?” she grinned.

What if she did? She was not going to hide it. She’d accepted her nature long ago. It was now up to me to accept the darkness. I’d got her so wrong.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “It was my fault.”

Her look softened and she shook her head in disdain, refusing my apology. A knock on the door startled us.

“Quick! Get in there,” she ordered.

I hurried into her bathroom. She closed the door on me, and I stood in the dark, trying not to move. Blood gushed through my veins. The noise was a roaring loudspeaker in my ears. I was sure the sound would give me away. Wasn’t there some Voodoo guy in Haiti who could stop his heartbeat, just by thinking about it? Now, that was control. I thought I’d give it a go and held my breath. I concentrated on my heart, willing it to stop, or at least slow down a bit. It didn’t work. I just made myself dizzy.

“Eliza, dinner’s ready.”

“Thanks Doreen,” Eliza replied. “But I’m not hungry.”

I pictured the scene in the bedroom. Doreen would have the door open just enough to peer in tentatively. Eliza would be seated on the end of her bed, bolt upright with not a thing out of place. By the tension in her throat, I could hear Doreen was unnerved.

“But your father won’t like that,” she whimpered.

“I don’t care what he likes,” Eliza said calmly.

The door closed. A few seconds later, Eliza came into the bathroom to find me holding my breath. I gasped. I began to wobble. A floating gaseousness invaded my feet. I reached out for the shower curtain but missed and passed out. I woke to find myself upside down behind the toilet.

“Why are you such an idiot?” she asked.

“Just the way I am,” I replied.

 

Blurb

On his fifteenth birthday, Monty is at rock bottom. Ignored by his parents, bullied at school, and with a brain that’s prone to going walkabout, he’s all by himself.

Until he meets the black dog for the first time.

It’s just like any other dog, except that only Monty can see it. And it talks. And Monty’s not sure whether it’s a friend – or a foe.

The black dog gets him talking to pretty, popular Eliza Robertson for the first time. It takes him to places he’s never been.

Eventually it will take Monty, and the people around him, to the very edge.

 

Notable achievements

The Children’s Book of the Year Awards: Notable Book

Queensland Literary Awards finalist

Shortlisted for the 2014 Adelaide Festival Unpublished Manuscript Award

 

About the author

Simon Butters is a screenwriter in film and television, living in the Adelaide Hills with his two hilarious kids, a very busy wife, and a scruffy little dog that definitely doesn’t talk but does do a weird grunt when patted behind the ear. Simon’s credits include Wicked Science, H20 Just Add Water, Maiko: Island of Secrets, and others.

 

We hope you enjoyed this extract from The Hounded. The book is available at our bookshop on 16 Rose Street, Mile End or online.

Book Extract: Big Rough Stones

Big Rough Stones

front cover of Big Rough Stones

Cover of the book

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 Farm

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.’

‘Okay.’

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.

A Royal Murder Extract

A Royal Murder cover

Cover of the book

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.

The first in the series, The Popeye Murder

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!

New Release: Valour and Violets

cover of Valour and Violets by Robert Kearney and Sharon Cleary

Cover of the book

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.

Read an Extract >>

Copies are available online, and from our bookshop in Mile End.

Special thanks to Veterans SA.

Mallee Boys Excerpt

Mallee Boys front cover

The cover of the book

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.

‘Sandy!’

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.

Everything pauses.

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.’

True.

‘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.

Taking a Punt

Shavers down: it’s Movember. Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Australian men, with 3000 dying of it each year – more than the number of women who die of breast cancer. Turn the focus on men’s health with this excerpt from Peter Endersbee’s memoir, Taking a Punt.

Anna accompanied me to the urologist for the biopsy results. I was still clinging to the possibility it might be benign in spite of the terrible PSA readings. When he came into the waiting room he was wearing a stiff white coat that belied his humble open-faced demeanour. He was tall and dark and handsome and younger than I’d imagined. Early forties. Certainly not the battle-scarred senior partner I’d associated with his field of specialisation. He seemed far too young to be playing God to a waiting room of old and middle-aged men. We were shown chairs, and sat down.

I could hardly bear to look at him. He smiled and praised me for having taken myself off to Casualty after I’d experienced the very flu symptoms he’d mentioned as an unlikely side effect of the biopsy. He said I’d done the right thing. His introductory gambit had my hopes up. It would be downhill all the way and I’d soon be walking out scot-free.

But after referring to more papers he looked me squarely in the eye and said they’d found carcinogenic cells from the biopsy. The PSA result had been bad enough, but hearing that I had prostate cancer was like being mentally winded, a feeling of vertigo. I glanced out the window, the plane trees and clear blue sky suddenly in a different world. I only half heard that my Gleason score was a seven on a scale of one to ten. I was told the Gleason was an indicator of how aggressive the cancer might be based on an aggregate number from the biopsy samples, where anything less than seven indicated a reasonable chance of a good prognosis; anything more than seven did not. The surgeon tried to reassure me that a seven was not so bad, at least it wasn’t an eight or a nine, which he had half expected, given my very high PSA. When I asked him what my chances were without the operation he replied, ‘Five to ten years, taking into account your readings and your age.’

As the first shock waves began to subside, I became aware of Anna taking notes.

On the way home we didn’t say much. Even over cups of tea at the kitchen table it hadn’t sunk in.

‘You’re taking it remarkably well,’ she said.

‘What else can I do?’ I was looking at the picture she’d painted on the teacup from which I was taking controlled sips, wishing I’d never answered the telephone that day. I clutched the soothing ceramic vessel.

‘I will support you in whatever you choose to do,’ she said. ‘We’re in this together.’

 

Find out more about Taking a Punt here.

 

Melancholic Meanderings through ‘The Vanished Land’

Richard Zachariah’s Vanished Land is an ode to what once was within the picturesque Western Districts of Victoria. His rich language frames anecdotes of rose-tinted childhood musings alongside despairing soliloquies on the modern state of the once majestic region. With a balance and pace that immerses the reader within the author’s thoughts and understanding, Zachariah opens up a world that has been lost.

 

A keen July wind touches us. I’m standing at the entrance to Hexham Park, which my old friend David Armstrong sold at a time of rural recession a decade ago. The paddocks are invisible under a plague of pine trees. A hundred and fifty years of the Armstrongs’ Western District hegemony has faded like a rainbow in the sky. The Camelot of my boyhood dreams is gone. No one at this moment feels safe from talk of grief.

When he greets us, David is amiable and brave. Artist Robert Whitson is there with me to paint what is left of the beloved place.

David’s key to the gate doesn’t work. The locks have been changed by the new owners, one of the timber companies whose tax-driven tree ventures have disfigured the Western District. Hexham Park, once a haven of undulating paddocks and river flats, is now a vivid scar of pine trees over sprayed weeds.

David is apologetic as we climb the locked gate and walk the mile long red gravel drive to his forsaken birthplace.

When I think of the towns to the northwest, the contrast is stark.

As a teenager, I knew Streatham, Skipton and Lake Bolac as the heart of a grazing and cropping nirvana, but today those towns are bereft and sinking, while proximity to a big city has handed Birregurra freshly painted cottages, organic cafes, a destination restaurant and a burgeoning future in lifestyle real estate.

Then I see the miracle of crops. Vast areas of sheep country have gone under the plough, defying traditional claims that the wet, heavy soil would drown any monetary return. Farmers have confounded the rules by raising the beds 15 centimetres and creating depressions between them to drain water. Once drained, the rich volcanic soil pushes up white and red wheat in unprecedented quantities interspersed with ripening canola in swathes of ludicrous hi-vis yellow.

Steel mammoths with rubber legs rumble through widened gates where utes once bumped along. Workers give way to machines ruled by laptops and satellites, driven by GPS-RTK auto steer, replacing manpower and emptying the towns.

Visiting outback Australia, the English writer Bruce Chatwin discovered the Aboriginal custom of measuring a journey in songs rather than kilometres. Out of this visit came The Songlines (1987), which lit up an ancient culture by interpreting the dreamtime as a parallel reality that exists alongside our quotidian existence, preceding us and lasting long after our deaths. Chatwin believed that our time-challenged lives would be enhanced if we discarded the angst of measuring kilometres so that a destination became a way of seeing and redefining ourselves.

The Songlines mythology came to me travelling in a car with Peter Learmonth, a fifth-generation Western District dictionary of ownership, bibliography of people and compendium of history. In the spirit of Chatwin, he measured our trips by properties passed and people remembered. Kilometres were irrelevant, never mentioned.

Find out more about this bestseller here.

Low-angle shot of the Miles Franklin Award

The Miles Franklin announcement is not far away. This award is arguably the most important on the Australian literary scene. In his Brief Take on the Australian Novel, Jean François-Vernay structures his approach by borrowing from another popular art form: film. Here we have his ‘Low-angle shot of the Miles Franklin Award’.

 

In line with the wishes of Stella Franklin, who bequeathed almost all of her estate estimated at £8,996 to establish this literary prize, the Miles Franklin Award must give preference to a published work ‘of the highest literary merit and which must present Australian Life in any of its phases’. Founded in 1957, the award has ever since crowned 58 novels with glory and increased their sales.

As is the case with any respected prize, the Miles Franklin has had its share of controversies. In 1994, the jurors unleashed a debate by excluding Frank Moorhouse’s novel Grand Days (1993) from the competition, claiming that its Australian content was practically insignificant. The story traces the career of a young Australian woman who, after the Great War, works for the United Nations in Geneva. In 1995, the committee tried to make amends by celebrating The Hand That Signed the Paper by Helen Demidenko, but it later transpired that the author was a Ukrainian-impersonating plagiarist. After this scandal, the jury decided to play it safe in 1996 with Highways to a War by Christopher Koch. Pocketing the prize money, Koch started another controversy when he revealed his uncharitable thoughts about academia.

Today, some people think it is high time the overly restrictive selection criteria of this award should be revised in order to take into account novels whose characters, settings, themes and plots are located outside Australia. The list of recipients of the Miles Franklin is also widely criticised for comprising chiefly middleaged novelists, few of whom are women (approximately one third of all prize-winners), let alone Aboriginal (Kim Scott and Alexis Wright being the exceptions). There is a sneaking suspicion that the judging panel might almost be guilty of ageism, sexism and racism. Despite the criticism, this national and nationalistic prize is still regarded as a reliable benchmark for identifying great Australian novels. The winner in 2010, Peter Temple’s Truth, indicated that popular genres like crime novels are now taken seriously.

For more close-ups, panoramic views and special features on the Australian novel, see here.

Flying our Aboriginal Flag

For NAIDOC Week, we are sharing this story from Phoebe and Savannah Brice, two of the many inspirational activists in Breaking the Boundaries.

 

We live in South Australia in a small, close-knit community about 200 kilometres north of Adelaide.

Phoebe

Our story started in 2007 when our Mum explained to us what being Aboriginal meant. She told us we were different from other people. When we asked how, she said, ‘It’s simply because our skin colour is different and we have a different flag. When you’re older you will understand better.’

We went to school the next day and when I noticed that our flag wasn’t flying proudly next to the Australian flag I started asking questions. I asked my classroom teacher why and she decided to follow it up. She spoke with our principal and they both decided I should contact Mr Rowan Ramsey, our federal Member of Parliament, and ask for an Aboriginal flag. I was successful and also received a medal for my achievement and initiative. Sadly, the flag was never flown because we didn’t have a flagpole to fly it on, and later, mysteriously, the flag disappeared.

After a few years, in 2012, my sister Savannah and I wanted to review this problem. We discussed it with our new principal, Maceij Jankowski, and our new classroom teacher, Katie Deverall,  and decided that we would again write to Mr Ramsey asking for a new Aboriginal flag and an Australian flag too, as the old one had been put through quite a bit. But to prevent the dilemma we were earlier faced with, Savannah wrote to Mr Ramsey also asking for a flagpole.

About two weeks later we received a letter in the mail each and a parcel containing an Australian and Aboriginal flag. We had successfully gained two new flags for our school. But there was still the problem of the flagpole.

Savannah

Phoebe was lucky. Her letter came with a parcel of two flags. My letter was a disappointment. It said that the flagpole fund had ceased but the good news was that my request had been forwarded onto Mr Geoff Brock, our state MP, to see whether he could be of assistance.

I waited for around two months to get a reply from Geoff, and when I finally got one it said that he was trying and he had sent my letter on to other people.

Then it was the September school holidays and my family and I went to the Port Pirie Smelters Picnic. As we were walking along Sideshow Alley my mum spotted Geoff Brock and she told Phoebe and me to go over and talk to him. So we did. We shook his hand and told him about the school and the flagpole. He told us that he was planning to visit our school in the last term. When school started again, I told my teacher and the principal and they were very excited.

It was Monday of the last week of term for the year and Geoff Brock still hadn’t come to visit, so I asked my teacher and principal for permission to send an email telling him how upset I was that he hadn’t come. The next day the principal asked for me  in his office. I thought I was in trouble but it turned out that Geoff Brock was going to be at my school at 10 am that day. When he arrived, the principal, Geoff and I had a short meeting updating me on what was happening.

Then it was 2013. Phoebe had started at high school. We didn’t hear from Geoff until early in term two, when the principal called me into his office. He said that we had finally got the pole. I was so happy I started crying. A few weeks later the pole arrived and by that time some of the local reporters heard about the story and by the eighth week of term two, I had already been in six newspapers. In the last week of school we had a NAIDOC celebration where one of the other Rocky River schools came to celebrate with us. We had a huge flagpole ceremony. All the parents came, and both Geoff Brock and Rowan Ramsey were there along with news reporters. After Rowan and Geoff read their speeches, the school captain and I raised both the Australian and Aboriginal flags. For the first time in all my life at that school I saw my flag rise.

I would like to thank all of the people who were involved with getting the flags and pole, and all of my friends for their support, my teacher and my principal and, most importantly, my mum, dad, sisters Phoebe and Samantha, and my older brother Mathew. At primary school it’s a tradition that the Year 7s leave their mark. As I go into my last year here, I feel my mark has already been made.

Find out more about Breaking the Boundaries here.

An introduction to Ashton’s Hotel

Rhondda Harris came across something fascinating when researching in the State Records of South Australia at Gepps Cross for an archaeological dig at the old Adelaide Gaol: a long-lost journal written by the gaol’s first governor, William Baker Ashton. But we’ll let Rhondda introduce the journal herself through this short preamble from her book, Ashton’s Hotel. This includes an excerpt from the journal itself which, yes, may contain some ‘mistakes’. As Rhondda says in the book, ‘I have turned off the autocorrect and transcribed it just as it is in the original. It is an editor’s nightmare but an authentic read.’

 

June 11 Wednesday: A Poor Woman Named Wilkinson Supposed to be Insane was found at 71/2 this Morning with 2 Small Children Nearly Dead from wet and Cold at the end of the ditch Near the Gaol the Poor Children were in a Dreadful State their Arms and legs being quite Stiff from the Wet & Cold I had the Woman & Children brot into the TurnKeys lodge by a good fire and Mrs. Ashton and Mr Perry took their Wet Clothes off and put warm Blankets on them and they Soon got better . . .
– Sheriff Visited the Gaol Saw the Prisoners and Saw the poor woman & children found in the Water this Morning, wished her to Remain in the Gaol and he would Report the Circumstances to the Government her Husband was for some years in the Government Employ at the port but have left the Colony Since and this Poor woman has no home for herself or Children.
June 12 Thursday: Mrs Wilkinson Still in Gaol and her children Supplied from the Gaol Rations by order of the Sheriff.

 

This story is from an old journal, written in Adelaide, South Australia. The date was 1845, in the sixth year of this extraordinary journal and in the ninth year of the South Australian colony. This incident, so briefly recorded, is in itself an ordinary story, yet it hints at the far-from-ordinary character of the writer, William Baker Ashton, first governor of the Adelaide Gaol.

There are many such stories in his journal. They provide entry into the little-known underclass of early Adelaide, a world where many of the poor, the inebriates, the prostitutes, the debtors, as well as many Aboriginal people, mentally ill people, children who stole or absconded from their masters, sailors, runaway convicts, petty criminals and serious criminals, including bushrangers and murderers, were collected in the confines of the first Adelaide gaols. Some of these people escaped and were recaptured. Some were hanged. Many were transported by sea to be punished in the penal colonies of Sydney and Van Diemen’s Land, out of Adelaide’s sight. They were all looked after for a time by the governor of the gaol, William Ashton; his wife Charlotte; the guards and turnkeys and sometimes their wives; and by visiting officials – doctors, nurses, the protector for the Aboriginal people, the sheriff, religious ministers, and the colonial governor. It is a fascinating journal, a real treasure, and now that it is known, it is a fabulous addition to the story of early Adelaide.

The cover of Ashton's Hotel, by Rhondda Harris

Find out more about Ashton’s Hotel here.