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 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.