Once again, the quality (and quantity!) of entries to the BRWF Writing Competition left us breathless. So many unique stories and memorable characters! What particularly impressed us this year was the number of submissions that were experimenting with form – stories that were told entirely through dialogue, for instance, or played with point-of-view and setting.
This year’s theme was designed to leave a touch of ambiguity – “Take the reins/rains/reign”. Writers across Nambucca, Coffs and Bellingen Shires did not disappoint, with some truly creative interpretations on offer.
Determining this year’s winners was no simple task, with a great many stories making it to our shortlist. But here, after much deliberation, are our 2022 winners. We hope you enjoy reading them as much as we did.
Junior: Ages 7-12
Freya Hannaford: When Day Turned to Night
When I woke the city streets were already bustling with life. From my ledge, I watched young slaves haul water from the fountain in the city centre and slop it back to their masters. Nearby, builders tended to the damage that had been brought upon the buildings when the earth shook the day before. The market stalls were already teeming. Yesterday, when the world shook in the shadow of the Great Mountain, I thought my beloved city might be devoured whole. But this morning it lived on.
Then I felt it. A sleeping giant stirring. Suddenly I was hurtling forward, spiralling downwards until my wings found the breeze. Screams and cries filled the air. Buildings dissolved and people scattered like ants.
The sky darkened and I saw that the Great Mountain was on fire. Smoke billowed from the crater and clawed its way towards me as I hovered on the breeze. I needed to escape. I needed to fly.
Ash rained down, pulling at my body and forcing me to descend and rest on the trunk of a mossy tree. I was startled when a voice whispered, “pretty moth.”
A child knelt beside me. Her face was grey with ash and her tears flowed like pink rivers down her cheeks. She touched her finger to the trunk and I climbed on, perching on the tip so she could admire me. She smiled in the dark, her fears forgotten. We sheltered together as ash fell, and day turned to night.
Annika Binns: Patter
As the rain pattered down, I knew it was coming. The dust stirred. It was hard to believe that in a place this dry, it was about to flood. The thought echoed around in my head, a cockatoo called and I snapped back into the moment. I scampered around the house to Matilda, she leant down, scratched my chin and whispered in my ear ‘‘not now Flynn’’. I trotted back around the house to the stables ‘outta the way runt’ boss yelled out at me from the back of a horse. I sprinted under the fence into the paddock. It was raining heavier now, and there were puddles starting to form on the ground. I scampered back under the fence to the house where Matilda lifted me into the coach. There were clouds forming overhead. Just then, Boss smacked down the reins of the horses and we rumbled down the old dirt road, “we’ll be back” whispered Matilda, I hoped so.
When I awoke it was pelting down rain. We had reached the city. Wagons and horses filled the streets, stall holders yelled out produce, people bustled here and there chatting as they went. I watched in wonder, snuggled in Matilda’s arms. Boss said we had to find an inn. Once we found one, Boss parked the coach outside and we walked inside where a kind man showed us to our room. After the long journey I was tired and jumped up onto the bed and fell fast asleep.
James Quodling: Rain Reigns Fall
Heraklion, Crete, 14th day of Maimakterion, 431 BCE
Storm clouds lurked over the horizon. Thunder reverberated across the mountains and the tumultuous expanse of sea, casting an aura of menace. The clouds burgeoned and soon spanned across the entire horizon. The village prophet stood on the shoreline. “Athens . . . will fall,” he croaked.
Athens, 14th day of Maimakterion, Greek Mainland 431 BCE
Rain began to fall, cold and biting. Children playing around the port scrambled towards the village market and huddled under the tents where people sold their wares. The fishermen anchored their boats and hauled barrels of fish onto the shoreline, the rain now plummeting down from the heavens and landing with force.
A shard of lightning crashed onto Mt Parnitha. People watching from inside their houses gasped, “The gods are angry!” Indeed they were. The rain intensified. Hail now smashed onto the thatched roofs. Seas rose and thunder cracked. People sheltered and prayed.
Athens, 15th day of Maimakterion, Greek Mainland 431 BCE
The city woke to a subsided storm. The waves lapped passively in the harbour and the storm clouds were far into Macedonia. But the sun shone onto the glinting shields of the Persian army as they violently stormed the city. Within a week, the siege was successful and the city was forced to surrender to the expanding empire. What was once an intellectual city state was now a dot on the map of an empire.
The prophet was right. Athens did fall.
Secondary: Ages 13-17
Ren Thomas: Faith (Forbearance)
She holds me tight in the early mornings.
The chill nips at the windows in these hours, the panes to our right fogging over, and she draws me hearts and faces and stars which drip down the glass before fading soon after.
I watch from where I am bundled up at her side under the blankets, my hip to her thigh. Her foot nudges mine and I nudge back, and the dawns are all cold but here I am sheltered. From the bed we can see across the highlands and the great lakes, which gaze upwards and show us the sky twice over. In them I see clouds, dark and swollen.
“The rain is coming,” I tell her, turning my head away from the window to bury it into the nook between the pillow and her ribs. She hums low and I feel it through my jaw.
Whenever rain hovers on the horizon she tells me the same thing: that the rains are ours, here, on this land with the rivers and the lakes, where we are high up enough that the clouds touch the cabin roof. When the rains come they are ours, and they always come like an absolution to the soil we inhabit, throughout the year and into the next and the next. They’re ours, and so we bear witness to the cleansing of the mountain.
Today she tugs me gently from the bed. The first downpour of the season demands our presence, and we have not missed one for as long as we’ve been here, however many years that may be. They have blurred together with the rain as colours bleed on paper, and though I know we must have arrived here at some point, recollection remains just out of reach.
Whenever I ask she tells me she carried me here, after my legs gave out during the journey. I imagine an arm under my knees and another around my back, my temple pressed to her sternum so as to feel her breath.
I try to picture where we came from, and where I would go if not for here, and I come up short with a mind full of half-formed images which fray at the edges.
Leaving is not something I consider willingly, but sometimes I catch a glimpse of the distant mountains through the fog on clearer days, and the thoughts come anyway. When they do I walk over the highlands, around the edges of the lake just to the North, and look back at our cabin settled on the earth. In the evenings the hearth inside casts orange out the windows, and smears smoke across the sky.
It would take a good few hours for her to notice my absence, if I fled. A few hours, and by the time she’d see my empty seat at the table, or my empty side of the bed with the blanket she knitted me left abandoned, I’d be down the mountain and I would be gone.
I try not to linger on these thoughts, and I never tell her I have them – I don’t know what she’d say or do, and not knowing leaves the possibility of her anger, which is something I never want to see. She’s too soft around the edges; all I know of her is soft. She is not a shape that rage could fill comfortably – its edges are jagged and its points are sharp. I think it would tear her open, and by extension, me.
It is safer to stay quiet. I stay quiet. I stay.
“Get some more layers on, baby,” she tuts at me now, “and maybe another pair of socks. Your gloves are on the couch.”
When she leaves a room she takes with her the hum of the air, and the comfort of the space. She steps from the bedroom and something twinges behind my navel.
I find a sweater of hers draped over the armchair in the corner, and a jacket at the foot of the bed, and follow her out to the front of the cabin. She sees my bare hands and clicks her tongue, but her eyes gleam, so I know she doesn’t mind when I press my palms against hers inside the pocket of her coat and tuck my head into the crook of her shoulder.
Now we watch the clouds roll in, and she’s saying I love you so much, you know that baby?
I know. Of course I know, and I find she is very warm, even while the wind is bitter, and the wool of her scarf is soft against my cheek. It smells of the spices she uses in the kitchen and the wildflowers which hang over the door.
The thunder echoes through us. I feel her shiver in delight, easing the pressure that cuts a line in my abdomen and the chill which follows close behind the storm.
(Anger doesn’t fit her, but love does. She is love, and it fills my hollows and slips around my ribcage just as the rain now falls to fill the rivers, while we stand and watch. The rains come and they are ours, and I stay, and I am hers.)
. . .
A few days later there’s a clear stretch, and the veil of fog in the distance lifts. The mountains and I stare at each other face to face, and they are so tall but yet I feel taller.
Something on the breeze whispers about leaving, as it often does when I see more of the world than our land, but I turn around and walk back to the cabin. She’s tying up bundles of herbs, ready to be dried by the fire, and she greets me with a press of lips to my forehead, cheek, nose.
When she hugs me tight, like the knots around the stems on the bench behind us, I think the ground steadies. And when she tells me there is another storm on the horizon, I smile.
Orli McKevitt Emmerson: One Full Circle
“Clickata, clickata, clikata.”
The sound of gravel under rim, slight bumps and jolts causing the already hazy distance to further distort. Dust. Billowing up behind like a dark and ominous cloud, mirroring the inner turmoil of Casimir’s thoughts. The January sun is high, beating down on strong muscular arms like the appendages of some complex machine, forged through hours of work and self-propulsion. The rocking and occasional lurching causes thick dark hair to fall in deep sea green eyes producing a muttered curse from dry and chapped lips. One full circle, two full circles, three full circles. The well worn T-shirt clings to his back in the sweltering heat and feet sweat in dusty joggers. “Krakakakaka!” A kookaburra sits on a livewire overhead and watches his slow progress sceptically, judging his every grunt as Casimir winds his way down the cracked dirt road. Four full circles, five full circles, six full circles. A cricket chirrups on the side of the road, a python, with glittering jewels for skin slithers into the scrub. Movement is all around birds, bandicoots and cicadas all calling out in warning. “Beware” they seem to cry, a beast approaches.
Casimir stops on the river bank and parks himself under an old river red gum, shielding his pale skin from the blaring sun, the doctor’s warped words running through his mind like a movie reel. “If you try you could walk again, if you try you could walk again, if you try you could walk again”. A white lie if ever there was one. Casimir doesn’t know how long he sits there glaring at the water as though it is at fault for his misfortune. But at some point he drifts off into an uneasy and tormented sleep.
He dreams broken fragments of memory, an impossibly beautiful stallion with obsidian for eyes, the incomprehensible pain of crushed bones, his mother weeping by his side as he lies in the crisp white sheets of a hospital bed, and his fathers angry voice shouting that “If you hadn’t allowed him to ride the beast…”. Casimir dreames of his first doctor’s visit and his most recent. “If you try you could walk again”. Even in his sleep the doctor’s sharp voice haunts him. He dreams of running through a paddock of clover and swimming in the river on Christmas with his cousins, of his first day back at school when his eternal tormentors pushed his wheelchair down the stairs. And then nothing, darkness until…
He slams upward, jarring his back, the sky is dark and the sun is low on the horizon. He must have slept for at least four hours. Panic rushes through him along with the realisation that he told his mother he would be home by three, it must be almost seven now, his father will not yet be home but when he arrives and his mother tells him that Casimir is missing he will become aggravated and violent. Casimir can’t let that happen again.
As all these thoughts and countless others rush through his mind as he stands, still as stone for seconds? minutes? Then begins to sprint, running on his own two legs for the first time in almost three years, past the startled birds and gibbering bandicoots, past the heavy construction equipment and scaffolding for the new housing estates on the outskirts of town. As he runs he imagines himself a horse who has kicked its rider and spat out its bit, free of the reins that, for Casimir, come in the form of a wheelchair. He runs barely noticing the shocked faces of adults and children, parents and infants and without a second glance at the fluorescent lights and pristine windows of the tiny medical centre. “Out of my way” he bellows at the cars and buses at the pedestrian crossing, his voice high spirited and exhilarated. He rounds a corner and narrowly misses a light pole, skittering to a halt on the loose gravel and dirt before leaping back into an elated gallop.
For the first time in two years and eight months, he runs without a care for the world, delighting in the whip of wind on his cheeks and the sensation of movement in his somewhat weakened legs. As he rounds the final corner onto his home street he stops and sinks to his quivering knees, inhaling the warm summer air, his attention captivated by the evening stars which seem to shine especially bright on this joyful evening, a shooting star streaks its way from one end of the town to the other, a bearer of luck. He stands and turns from the sky then, a carefree smile playing on his lips, and pronounces in a powerful voice for anyone and everyone to hear “I’ve gone one full circle”.
A Cicada chirps nearby bringing him back to his current reality and then, for what seems like the second time that day Casimir wakes in the shadow of a river red gum at dusk, his wheelchair by his side and a deep sorrow in his heart fed by the disappointing truth of permanent paralysis.
One full circle, two full circles, three full circles.
Sarah O'Connor: The Day My Brother Learnt To Fly
My brother is like a bird. He flutters around, never here nor there, difficult to understand and hard to get close too. I live with him and our mum in a small wooden house that smells of mould and distant memories. Just in front of the house, and to the left is the tallest maple tree you’ve ever seen. His leaves dance among the clouds and his branches twist and turn in the wind, the roots tangle down the hill to a cliff that drops off a few metres from the front of the house. It’s so tall that if you look over, you can’t see the growling water at the bottom of the escarpment. Affixed to the tree’s lower branches is an old swing that’s hung there forever. It has reached the end of its life twice over but it’s the only thing that brings a smile to my brother’s face, so we keep it. When you swing hard enough it pushes all the way out over the cliff; over the edge of the world. We’ve never gone that high, but it must feel like flying.
My brother flitted out of the house this morning to go on his swing. He has to jump to get on the seat, Luke has always been a very small child. When he was a toddler my mum worried about his learning, he doesn’t talk much or has never wanted to at least. He has his nose stuck in a book every chance he gets dreaming of being in places far far away, full of colour and light and things you and I could never imagine. Sometimes I wonder if he was ever supposed to come to earth. I love him dearly of course, but some things are destined for greater life. It makes me wonder if he is one of those things…
Luke lent all the way back on the seat and looked at me sitting on the steps to the house. A smile stretched from ear to ear across his face and a bubbly giggle escaped from between his lips. He began to swing. When Luke went to school he never tried to mingle with the other kids. It wasn’t that they weren’t unfriendly, in fact they tried to involve him but it was like he was never fully there. Or never wanted to be. His teacher has spoken to us a few times telling us she was worried about him. It’s not like he didn’t get good grades, he definitely wasn’t out spoken in class and he couldn’t get close enough to the other kids to potentially get in a fight. I guess she just worried about him as a human, because he was different.
Now he was swinging high enough to touch the leaves in the branches above him. They were turning to all colours of a deep red sunset. That meant winter was coming. I don’t like winter, or anything cold or wet or sad. My mum got sick last winter. In the beginning she still cared for us, but I could see how difficult it was for her so I do it now. On the best of days she will walk to the kitchen window and watch Luke on the swing. I can still see the ghost of her old self in her eyes, but her body is withered and tired as she stands hunched over, her eyes are sunken in and her hair lies limp against her scalp like sodden straw. Luke brings her leaves from the maple tree every few days, it makes her smile. But only for a while. Then she goes somewhere else; a vacant presence.
Luke is swinging so high now that his feet are beginning to tip above his body at each end. He is swinging past the edge of the cliff, dangling over the unknown. It’s the highest his body has ever been on the swing, it’s the highest he’ll ever go again. His legs dangle above him, tipping his body upwards. If he reached out he could grab a branch almost half way up the tree.
“Luke, don’t! Don’t do it,” I call.
He keeps swinging.
His smile grows proportionally with the height of the swing. He is laughing so hard now but the sound is distorting in the wind. A little boy full of joy revelling in full flight, the tree shudders as the swing pulls him further over the cliff, enticing him. The old rope Luke holds onto begins to fracture, snapping and freeing itself from the tree. Luke’s small fingers hold on tighter as gravity pulls him back towards the house. He releases a huge breath as the swing brings itself back down for the last time. The last strands of rope free themselves from any binding to the tree, to the earth; and fly towards the edge of the cliff, my brother aboard.
That was the day my brother learnt to fly.
Open: Ages 18+
Beverly Kirby: Taking the Rains (Reins)
Torrential rain hammered the roof of my ute as I drove cautiously towards our old family home where my mother still lived, alone for the last three years. After ten hours, the weathermen forecast two more days of heavy falls, intermittent after that.
As I crossed the old wooden bridge over the creek where we learned to swim as kids, I noticed the water level was nearly touching the deck. I calculated that I had less than an hour to convince mum to evacuate before flooding would make the road impassable.
Persuading mum to leave would be difficult. She loved that house and would want to stay to tend to the chickens and the few cattle she had left from dad’s herd. She would have already moved the chooks on to the verandah and driven the beasts to the highest paddock.
In fact, getting mum to leave had been my preoccupation for months now. My sister and I both agreed that mum was getting very forgetful. Worse, in any conversation exceeding twenty minutes, she would start to repeat herself. We feared that left alone, she would do something dangerous like turning the gas on and forgetting to light it.
Neither of us was in a position to have her to live with us. I lived alone and was frequently working away on building projects. Sis was a teacher and her husband worked from home as an accountant. They had three kids in a three-bedroomed house with no room to expand or build a granny flat.
My older brother Frank, firstborn and the apple of mum’s eye had yet to be convinced that mum was away with the pixies and the time had come to move her into care.
‘Forgetfulness is just a fact of old age,’ he claimed. ‘Everyone forgets stuff. And,’ he continued, ‘She’d hate to leave that house where she’s lived for the last 50 years. What does her doctor say?’
He knows she has dementia. He recommends she live with one of the family.’
I knew Frank was the only one with enough room for our aging mother, but I doubted if he and his wife would be prepared to undertake the daunting task.
‘Well, I say wait and see. We’ll keep an eye on her.’
That was a tall order. Whenever I was in town, I would call round at least once a week. Often Sis’s husband Jason would help me with little maintenance jobs like fixing the fences. Funnily enough, Frank was hardly ever available to help with these projects. I knew Sis called round regularly and usually brought a meal she’d made that mum could reheat. When Frank did manage one of his rare visits, he’d take mum out somewhere upmarket. She always remembered those fun times.
Turning into mum’s drive, I got a glimpse of the swollen, turbid river surging by at an alarming height.
‘Don’t worry!’ mum exclaimed. ‘It was higher than that in the ’49 flood before you were born and we survived. Your father and I simply moved upstairs for a week then hosed the place out later.’
‘Yeah mum, but you and dad had a slate floor. Now you have a carpeted lounge and electrical appliances. I think you’d be pretty uncomfortable.’
‘Pooh! I’d be all right for a few days. Anyway, you’re here.’
‘But we have to go now, mum!’
Even as I spoke I knew it was too late to leave by road; the bridge would be under by now.
‘Hey mum, have you still got dad’s tinny that he used to go fishing in?’
‘Yes, it’s still in the back of the shed somewhere.’
The water was now lapping at the bottom step. I waded out to the shed and found some empty oil drums floating near the door. I pushed them through the murky flood and raised the chickens’ crate up a few feet.
‘Good luck,’ I muttered.
The water was up to my knees. I forced my way back to the shed and peered through the gloom. Eureka! I floated the tinny and heaved it towards the door. Thankfully, I spied the motor up on the workbench next to a jerry-can of fuel for the lawnmower. I hefted both items into the boat and dragging it clear of the shed, tied it to the verandah rail.
‘Come on mum!’ I shouted. ‘We’re going fishing! Grab your parka and boots and bring that little bucket. You might have to bail.’
‘Ooh! That’ll be fun. I haven’t been fishing since your dad died,’ mum chuckled.
I fumbled the motor into place, managed to get most of the fuel into the small tank and helped mum into the boat. In trepidation, I untied the rope.
As soon as we cleared the corner of the house, I knew we were in trouble. My puny 5 hp motor could make no headway at all in the raging torrent. We raced downstream so rapidly, it was all I could do to gun the motor to manoeuvre our way around floating logs and tangled debris. Horrified, I watched live cows kicking and bellowing their way to the coast and certain death. I saw sheds and caravans scooting past. Sadly, we also spotted a dead horse and several hutches still containing chickens or rabbits.
I was growing desperate. At this rate, we would soon be hit by flotsam and night was falling. With the water still rising, we would certainly drown, either in the river or the sea.
Mum, meanwhile, was treating the whole terrifying ordeal as a jolly lark. She bailed away merrily and kept up a running commentary about whose property we were passing and what interesting stuff was whizzing by. It was all an amazing adventure to her. I envied her insouciance.
Some 15 minutes passed and we were no nearer the far bank. It was getting harder to see and we carried no lights. I knew our fuel was getting low and we would soon be totally at the mercy of the river, so wide now it covered all the plain across to the empty main road.
Suddenly there was a hefty thump and I nearly lost my grip on the tiller. Either we’d hit something or something had hit us. Mum was knocked backwards into the bow of the boat. We both let out a yell and that proved our salvation.
At that very moment, an SES rescue boat rounded the bend and someone aboard heard us cry out. Their powerful spotlight picked out our little craft wallowing in what had been someone’s dam. The crew of the flood boat threw us a line and took us in tow. With their mighty 120 hp motor, they were able to drag us back upriver and land us on the embankment right outside the Town Hall.
Pitifully grateful for our emergency services, I stepped, shaking, from our vessel to terra firma. Mum, however, was still taking it all in her stride.
‘Thank you, young man,’ said she to the volunteer helping her out of the boat. ‘That was a wonderful adventure. Now I have to go home to feed the chickens.’
The poor fellow was nonplussed. ‘I don’t think you’ll get home for a while, granny,’ he replied, shaking his head as he looked at me askance.
‘It’s okay,’ I said, ‘she’s just a bit confused.
‘There’s nothing wrong with me!’ mum shouted indignantly. ‘Take me home; I have things to do!’
‘Wouldn’t you like a nice cup of tea with the nurses at the hospital?’ he cajoled.
‘Oh, all right,’ mum agreed crossly. ‘But then I have to see to the chickens and make John’s tea.’
‘My father. He died three years ago.’
‘Oh, it’s like that, huh?’
One of the volunteers drove us to the hospital where we were treated to towels and a hot cup of tea. I was able to relate the whole story to a young doctor, while the nursing staff took mum to be checked over.
He looked thoughtful. ‘I’ll check with her GP, but from what you’re telling me, she has pretty well lost touch with reality. The driver said she wanted to get back to make dinner for your late father. We can keep her here for a few days but the family and the medical staff are going to have to have a serious discussion about her future care.’
I accompanied him to mum’s room.
‘Well, Mrs Simpson, how are you feeling after your exciting boat-trip?’
‘Great, young man. My Frank always finds such fun things to do. He knows I love an adventure. We didn’t catch any fish though.’
‘Frank?’ said the doctor. ‘I thought you said your name was Jack.’
‘It is,’ I said. ‘Frank is my older brother. He’s usually the one who does all the fun stuff.’
‘Right. Well, Mrs Simpson, we’re going to keep you here tonight, just to be sure you’re okay. I reckon the chickens will survive one night.’
Phillip Edwards: Kara and the Ghost
Slicing through the air Kara’s boomerang came whirring back to her outstretched hands. She practised every morning at sun-up before the women walked to the riverbed to dig deep beneath granite boulders for water. The ongoing drought had dried out water holes for many days walk, in every direction. At night Kara slept in the women’s cave, where she felt safe after sunset. Not far away, the quinine tree grew; its bitter bark was steeped in water and used for birth control.
A week earlier, she had seen a white ghost sitting upon a strange four-legged animal with a voice never heard before by her tribe. They passed by their camp and waved in a friendly manner as everyone disappeared into the bush. Later, the elders said he was a lost ghost that travelled by day instead of night and lived in dark places. His small white dingo with brown spots ran around sniffing and peeing on everything in camp. He called, “lezgomate,” Mate ran behind him and was lucky there were no camp dingoes around. Unfortunately for them, fresh meat was hard to find, and they had been next on the menu.
In wattle blossom season, the ghost returned and spoke to the elders in sign language. Asking them if he could live down their valley and could he find a wife from the tribe. The elders thought that it may be possible and were happy his tribal totem was different to theirs; they talked day and night to decide Kara was the perfect choice to keep this ghost happy and well-fed. Her skills with the men’s boomerangs caught many birds for the camp, and they were pleased with the extra food.
Finally, all the elders agreed the ghost could live further down their valley with Kara. They were both excited and cautious to have a tribal member from the spirit world and glad he wanted to live elsewhere.
So Kara and the white ghost became man and wife through a tribal marriage ceremony. After a few days, he lifted his bride upon this monster horse and gave the elders steel knives and tomahawks as parting gifts. Instantly, he became the most popular ghost since dream-time.
Kara was terrified on the horse, and not knowing her fate, she trembled with fear. They camped beside a dried-out water hole at the end of the valley. She could not run back to the tribe but was happy her home camp was not far away. He was glad to have someone to talk to, being lonely since leaving his tribe, and asked her to call him Tom. Together they set up their camp. After a while, she was happy to be his wife and glad he found her. His little dingo was like a small picaninny.
Even though he had an ear-piercing bark, they were good friends, and he dropped the sticks she threw for him on her feet. The four-legged monster horse Ben talked only to his master and ignored her. He was only interested in eating grass. Tom spent his time making enclosed yards for Ben, and built a marvellous big Mia-Mia with a bark roof and split planks to store food and sit on. He hung his digging stick and other strange things on the walls made from woven wattle branches covered with mud. Their Mia-Mia was cool, like a cave, an excellent place to live.
They stopped their fire from escaping with large stones around it and the smoke drifted through an opening in the roof.
Tom left camp, and Kara visited her tribe and sat with her Mother until the elders came over to ask about her ghost. She said he was a good spirit, and they were happy together. The next full moon, Tom returned home with many small four-legged animals that bleated all the time and another massive horse called Bloody Horse. The next day he went to the dried-out water hole and dug it out all day long until all she could see was the end of his digging stick throwing mud and water from the hole. He worked hard like a Demon, driving long stakes all around the inside of the hole and placing large boulders against them; while it filled knee-deep with water, he made a large Coolamon from a sheet of bark and filled it with water for his bleating sheep, who settled quietly after quenching their thirst.
He Left Kara and her Mother to keep the dingoes away and went to butcher an animal, which they cooked amongst hot rocks and coals and enjoyed eating this unusual fatty meat. Mother had dug up some good-sized witchetty grubs as a special treat and grilled them lightly. Later on, Tom gathered his animals together with the help of his clever little Mate and chased them into their new enclosure, where they were safe from wild dingoes and fed them native grass. Not far away, he searched amongst the gravel in a nearby creek bed and found the specks of gold he’d seen on his first visit there.
Digging a large shallow pool around a tree stump on the creek’s bank. He filled it with water and creek gravel until it overflowed. Then, harnessing his horse to a pole that went around an axle fixed to the stump. Branches lashed to the pole hung in the pool and spilled the sandy gravel and water over its edge. Ben pulled the end of the pole and branches around the pool while Tom filled it with water and gravel. Finally, after puddling the pool with the help of Ben and Bloody Horse, he dug it out and washed the sandy mud to extract the gold. The next day, pleased with his efforts, he left camp with a jam tin full of gold to visit his big tribe further north. Kara, with her Mother, stayed at the women’s cave where she gave birth to her first picaninny, a girl. Kara’s Mother carved a vulva into the cave’s wall of soft whitish stone, with many others, one for every girl born there. They returned to camp with the first drops of the summer rains. Later, to his surprise, Tom was greeted by the crying of a baby girl. He came from a family of boys and did not expect a girl, which pleased him immensely, and so did Kara’s beautiful smile.
David Kennedy: A Bedtime Collaboration
Daddy, can you read me a bedtime story?
Sorry sweetie, I didn’t have time to grab any books.
Why are we in this hotel? Can’t we sleep at home tonight?
We can’t go home until your mother comes to her senses.
But this bed is uncomfortable.
I’m sure it’s not that bad. Let me join you.
Is mum angry with me?
No, she loves you.
Then why did she…?
Maybe I can remember a story. From when I was a boy.
. . .
Okay, so there was a man made of straw, and one of tin…
Like in the wizard of Oz?
No, um, I mean he had straw coloured hair. One day he was…
Once upon a time!
Fairy tales always start with Once upon a time. Everyone knows that.
Okay. Once upon a time a man was walking down the road when he…
What kind of a road?
Does it matter?
Well, you can’t have a car road in a fairy tale.
He was walking along a dirt road when he came upon a talking donkey.
It should be a talking puppy. A cute one.
Okay. As the man was walking a cute puppy walked out of the woods and onto the dirt road. Thinking the puppy was lost he called out, ‘Hey boy, why are you walking out in the woods on your own?’
‘I’m not a boy, I’m a girl puppy,’ she said.
What are you doing?
I’m going to make the puppy’s voice.
But you don’t know what the puppy is going to say.
I will if I’m making the voice.
I suppose so. ‘Aren’t you scared to be out in the woods all alone?’ asked the man.
‘Aren’t you?’ asked the puppy.
‘Of course not, but why don’t we walk through the woods together, just in case,’ said the man.
‘Okay,’ said the puppy, ‘Follow me.’
For a while they continued walking along the road. The sun started to go down, and the woods became dark and spooky. Bats flew overhead and an owl hooted from a nearby tree.
‘It’s okay to be scared mister, I’ll protect you,’ said the cute puppy.
‘Oh, you will protect me, will you?’ said the man.
All of a sudden, a big ugly troll burst out of the woods. The puppy yipped in fright, but the brave man stepped forward and picked up a big stick. He waved it in the air and yelled ‘Stay back, you beast. Leave this helpless puppy alone.’
That’s not a beast. That’s my friend,’ said the puppy.
‘That’s my friend. Her name is Susan,’ said the puppy.
But the puppy was frightened.
‘She surprised me, is all. I didn’t expect her to jump out like that.’
‘You’re tricking me,’ said the man, ‘You’re supposed to be scared of the big ugly troll.’
‘Stop calling her that. You’re so mean. Now you’ve made her cry.’
… ‘You’re really friends with her?’ said the man.
‘Trolls can have friends too. Come on, Susan. We’re going to walk ahead. You can catch up to us when you’ve thought about what you’ve done.’ The puppy and the troll turned their backs on the man and started to walk away.
But she was roaring and yelling at me.
How do you know she was yelling at you? Maybe she was yelling because she was sad or lonely.
‘Fine then,’ said the man as they trotted and stomped off without him. He sat on a log and crossed his arms. ‘See if I care.’
As he sat there a bunch of spooky animal noises happened around him. He felt scared from being cold and alone.
The man wanted to be cross with the puppy, but he knew that would be unfair. He was really cross with himself for hurting the troll’s feelings.
She has a name.
He felt bad for hurting Susan’s feelings and knew what he had to do. He ran to catch up with the other two.
The puppy heard his footsteps and turned around to him with her arms crossed.
What? A puppy can’t… Never mind.
‘I’m sorry,’ he said when he had found them. ‘I know I was wrong to say those things and I know the right thing to do is apologise. Can we all be friends now?’
‘Of course we can,’ said Susan and the puppy at the same time.
They all hugged, and as they did a beautiful pixie flew over them and sprinkled colourful pixie dust everywhere. And they all lived…
‘Look out,’ yelled the puppy, knocking the man over and away from the pixie dust.
The puppy jumped up on the man’s chest and shot magic out of her eyes. The pixie changed. It was actually an evil witch in disguise.
Wait a second! Puppies can’t shoot magic out of their eyes.
They can’t talk either Daddy. It isn’t a real story.
But that was going to be the end.
It would have been if the puppy didn’t save you. You almost got covered in evil witch dust.
Okay. The puppy heroically stopped the magic of the witch, and the troll…
And Susan roared and made the witch fly away as fast as possible.
‘And don’t try it again, Greg,’ yelled the puppy.
Greg the witch?
Greg the witch.
… Fair enough.
The three friends followed the road to the other side of the forest. They found the cosy little cottage where the man with the straw-coloured hair lived.
‘This is my home,’ he said. ‘If you want, you are welcome to stay the night before you go back to your home.’
‘But I don’t have my own home,’ said the puppy.
‘Then you can stay here forever, both of you.’
‘Yay,’ said Susan and the puppy.
They all went inside, and each had a cup of hot chocolate before going to sleep in their new home. And they lived happily ever after. The End.
. . .
That was a good story, but what was the moral?
Fairy tales have a moral at the end. What was the moral of the story?
Um… even if someone is small, they can still be brave and save the day?
Don’t be silly Daddy. That’s too obvious. How about the man shouldn’t have been mean to the troll without talking to her first?
Hey I already… I mean he already apologised for that. Plus, a moral needs to apply to other situations. Yours is too specific.
If you say so, Daddy.
How about this: the troll was nice, but the pixie turned out to be evil, so maybe the moral is that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.
Maybe, but I think I have a better one.
Okay, what do you think is better?
Well, the puppy and Susan helped the man by saving him from the witch, and the man helped them by letting them live in his house. So maybe if people always try to help each other, then they can all have a happy ending.
Daddy smiles briefly at his daughter then closes his eyes. He sits still for a long moment.
Try to get some sleep darling. I need to call your mum.