Monday, April 18, 2011

Gifts Of The Peramangk - WIP Preview No.1.

For the past few months, I have been working (???) away on my new writing project which I first alluded to last year. At that time, it was known as "Project Ruby" and I had barely begun sketching an outline of the story. Well, despite some stops and starts since then, I am starting to fully get into the swing of the story and it is evolving well. In fact, it is evolving better than I had anticipated. This morning I passed 30,000 words.

As a work in progress the following preview is pretty rough and I make no apologies for any grammatical flubs that might exist. I am sure there are plenty. But I am excited to be able to share it with you and I welcome - encourage -  you to comment. 

Actually...I beg you to comment... :)


Golden beams of a mid afternoon sun shone down through the canopy of a majestic weeping willow tree. The tree towered above a water hole, its many leaf-adorned fingers swaying back and forth in the warm breeze. Penetrating the canopy, those sunbeams knifed downward to strike the rippling water, touching off silent explosions of light that blossomed and danced like glittering fairies across the surface. They rode on the tiny waves that arced out across the water in every direction until they disappeared on the craggy shore.

This simple operatic ballet continued over and over, regenerating itself, sustaining a continuous, hypnotic dance of light and movement.

This opera was reflected in the eyes of the child that sat on the bank of the waterhole, just forward of the main trunk of the willow tree. She was utterly transfixed by the beautiful dance, tilting her head to one side, allowing the light show to carry her imagination on the back of a cabal of vivid imagery. She was lost in its wonder.

The girl was slight, rake thin - but athletic - with shining, raven black hair and chocolate brown skin. Her large eyes reflected the prettiness of the water dance and she blinked every so often as the sunlight dazzled her vision. The shimmering light danced across her powdery soft, her flawless cheeks.

She wore a simple cream colored dress with a lilac flower print. The contrast with her skin was as incongruous as it was pretty. She sat hunched forward slightly, her sinewy legs outstretched, her bare feet exposed to a pocket of sunlight that peeped through the canopy of the willow. Her soles were uncharacteristically tough and leathery in comparison to the rest of her skin - the result of rarely wearing any form of footwear. Not that she was in any way aware of this at her age. For Virginia was only 8 years old.


Virginia's eloquent reverie was suddenly and abruptly broken when something - or someone - hit the water in front of her like a bomb, throwing up glittering cascades of water that thoroughly drenched not only Virginia, but two of her companions who had been lying beside her sunning themselves.

"Bloody hell!" Virginia squeaked incongruously, as a similarly lithe and dark young figure erupted from the water wearing a huge grin on his face. "You're a menace Bobby!"

Virginia stood up, arms outstretched, her dressed soaked as the shock of the cool water dissipated but was replaced by the awkward feeling of wet clothing stuck to her skin.

She cursed under her breath, inadvertently inhaling some of the water that splashed across her face. She coughed and spluttered for several moments, wiping furiously at her face.

Virginia had had enough fun in the water for today. Having only recently recovered from a prolonged bout of illness, she had been swimming, jumping and playing in the cool water for the better part of the entire morning - when the sun's warmth was at its peak. Virginia was exhausted now and thus happy to relax on the shore and watch while the others frolicked in the water, swinging off the rope and tire swing that hung from one of the boughs of the willow.

Stifling her cough finally, Virginia maintained her darkened poker face a moment longer before her facade cracked. Bobby flashed a broad, cheeky smile and she returned it in kind. He then flipped himself into an effortless duck dive and disappeared below the surface. Virginia shook her head then balled her fist to her chest, feeling a final gout of sudden, searing tightness erupt there.

There were seven of them in all - a mixture of Aboriginal and Caucasian children - four girls - three of whom sat on the shore, including Virginia - and one in the water with the three boys. They ranged in age from 6 to 13 years old and they were as close a group of friends as one could find. The children lived a carefree existence in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia, exploring the ubiquitous Australian bush that was somewhat tempered by the, very English, rolling green pastures that was a defining feature of the Hills environs. Their lives were by and large tranquil, free from the kinds of concerns that had characterized children of a similar age during the recent war years. They lived quietly close by one another. They attended the local school in the small township of Mount Pleasant near to where they played and swam now. There, in the classroom, they respectfully - if a little boisterously - engaged in the noble pursuit of learning under the watchful eye of Miss Hartigan, a teacher whose firm but enthusiastic hand seemed to draw out the very best in her young charges. Not surprisingly though, once school was over and done with each day and on the weekend, the children's attentions were firmly fixed upon adventure and sky-larking as much as possible.

It was an uncharacteristically warm autumn Saturday in middle of April. The unexpected, extended summer weather gave the children plenty of extra lazy days by the waterhole, their favorite place in the whole world. The boys had built a ramshackle fort here, from pieces of discarded iron and timber that lay nearby. The rope swing that hung out over the water within easy reach was a particularly proud achievement for Bobby who had managed to procure the rope after several failed attempts.

As Bobby surfaced several feet away from where he had executed his dive, Virginia sat down once more, crossing her legs in one effortless motion as she smoothed out her dress before her.

Her companions beside her, who were tying together an impressive length of daisy chain, admired her summer dress silently. One of the girls quickly reached out with her hand to billow out the material behind Virginia, to prevent it from crumpling underneath her as she plonked down on the ground.

"Your Mum's done such a good job with that dress" one of the girl's remarked languidly as Virginia picked up the length of daisy chain before her and assessed her handiwork.

She smiled bashfully, glancing at her friend, Lucy, beside her.

"Mum is a good seamstress. Mrs. Stinson gave her this material months ago and Mum has been working on it, little by little ever since. Mrs. Stinson is good to us"

The Mrs. Stinson Virginia referred to, owned the haberdashery in Mount Peasants’ main street and employed Virginia's mother there on a part time basis as a shop assistant and seamstress. Her mother's work was, in fact, quite well regarded throughout the district.

"Has your father seen it yet? Has your Mum sent him a photograph?"

Virginia bowed her head slightly and shook her head meekly.

"We don't know if he got the parcel Mum sent yet," she responded quietly glancing sideways at her second companion, a slightly chubby Caucasian girl named Rita, on the bank. "We sent him photographs weeks ago but we haven't heard anything from him"

"Is your Mum worried? I heard the men in the Pub talking the other day, saying that lots of soldiers are getting hurt in Karea"

Rita reached around behind Virginia and poked Lucy in the ribs, causing the younger girl to jump where she sat.

"It's Korea!" she scolded disapprovingly. "And don't be so nosey"

Both girls noted then, that Virginia was worlds away from them, lost in her thoughts. Rita gently placed a hand on Virginia's shoulder and smiled warmly.

"Don't worry Ginnie. He'll be alright. He's a big fella and he knows how to look after himself"

Virginia looked at Rita and managed a wan half smile in return.

"I miss him," she said simply, pausing to stifle another coughing fit from the residual water she had inhaled earlier. "Mum really misses him. It's been weeks since we've heard anything. Sometimes I hear her crying at night in her bed. I wish he would come home"

Virginia's father was a soldier, an Anzac, serving in the far off country of Korea in a war that Virginia - nor her mother for that matter - could barely understand. He had been gone for many months; so long in fact that Virginia feared that she was struggling to remember him. She had a photograph of him on her bedside table, but she desperately missed the sound of his voice - especially his singing voice which was lovely and deep and soft. He used to sing her to sleep every night - songs of his people from long ago that had been passed down through the generations. She remembered his hands too - large, dark leathery hands that were strong at work but also incredibly tender and soft when he held her own small hand in his whenever they walked along together or when she sat upon his shoulders and held his hands for stability. Virginia had always been close to him. Her father was somewhat unique in the district in that he was the single member of the township serving soldier in the armed forces in Korea. Accordingly, the township held him in high regard and they were protective of his young family.

From far above the trio, high up in the boughs of the willow tree, an unsettling bird call issued forth suddenly, causing all three of the girls to jump where they sat.

"What was that!?" Lucy exclaimed, startled.

"I don't know" Rita replied, rising to her feet and craning her neck to scan the upper reaches of the willow tree.

Virginia rose with her and together they watched for any movement. The unsettling bird call sounded once more, a deep undulating cry - almost like the sound of a crying baby. The sound was enough to stall the children in the water and all of them stopped their splashing for a moment, treading water in silence.

There was a flash of movement. Then, suddenly, a single small gray bird hove into view, launching itself from the high up bough. It dived down in a graceful arc before peeling away over the water hole towards a eucalyptus on the other side where it had spied a suitable branch upon which to land.

Virginia watched the bird intently, following its flight path as it angled out over the water hole. It cried out a third time, sending a chill through her. She had never heard anything quite like it before, ever.

"It's a mingka bird" Bobby said evenly, from his vantage point in the water.

"What's that?" Albert, his companion treading water beside him, exclaimed unimpressed.

"Well...I dunno exactly what it is" Bobby explained. "But my Nana told me a story about it once. She said it's a bird that cries whenever somebody is about to die"

Both Lucy and Rita gasped and Rita put her hands on her hips angrily. She flashed Bobby a withering glare from where she stood.

"Bobby!" she hissed. "You can't say things like that! Not when Ginnie's Dad is away fighting in the war"

Bobby's expression remained blank for a moment as he eyed Virginia, who was still staring up at the bird. She gave the impression that she hadn't heard him. The bird cried out once more, its unsettling warble carrying across the water hole.

"Well I never meant that Ginnie's Dad was gonna know..." he paused, sensing that he was digging himself further into a hole.”B-besides...its cry isn't deep enough. It has to be a deep cry if a man is going to die. That cry sounds lighter...more like for a woman. Not a man"            

Bobby's words sounded distant to Virginia, her eye were fixed on the bird far above her. Suddenly, she didn't feel like being here at the waterhole anymore.

"I think I might go and see Mum" she said flatly. "She should be finished work soon"

Virginia bent down, picked up her towel from the ground and brushed it down with her hand. Both Lucy and Rita were glaring disapprovingly at Bobby while his companions - Albert, Vaughn and Edith - turned away from Bobby and swam to shore. Their splashes caused the bird to take flight once more. It issued one final cry, then disappeared over the canopy of the willow tree and was gone.

"We'll come with you hey?" Rita offered, nodding firmly at Lucy out of sight of Virginia. "Perhaps we could get some ice cream"

The mention of a cool ice cream managed to shake Virginia from her troubled reverie and she managed a meek smile as the children from the water gathered around her.

*                      *                      *

The children sauntered casually along the path that flanked the main street, heading to the small, sleepy township of Mount Pleasant. The girls had managed to coax Virginia back into conversation while Bobby hung back a little, having been stung by their combined scolding of him earlier. The prospect of an ice cream however, rendered the unpleasant encounter almost forgotten and the group sauntered along happily.

Mount Pleasants' main street was quiet, as it mostly always was. The tranquil hamlet, nestled among the patchwork meadows, was by its very nature a sleepy township most   of all because of it's out of the way locale. It seemed a world away from everything. It served a community of rural folk - farmers, graziers, grain growers, small holders. They were people of the land who knew the land well and had worked it with an almost reverential respect since the first Europeans arrived there in the 1830's. Prior to that, the countryside around the township was the traditional lands of the Peramangk indigenous Australians whose influence over this region stretched back thousands of years. Today, however, the aborigines of the Adelaide Hills were almost gone. Virginia's, Bobby's, Lucy's and Albert's families were descendants of a race that had been largely wiped out by European settlement and its introduction of European illnesses a century before.

As the children walked along under the tall plane trees that lined both sides of the street, they chattered and laughed enthusiastically and Virginia joined in, having now fully forgotten the earlier events. The boys rough housed with one another while the girls continued their earnest discussion about their impressive daisy chain and what to do with it once they got it safely home. They chattered excitedly about what flavored ice cream to treat themselves to at the general store. The discussion then drifted back to Virginia's father.

"My Dad says that this war is no good for anyone" Lucy remarked, surprising both Virginia and Rita somewhat since their smaller companion had, until now, remained painfully quiet. "He says it will go on for a long time and lots will get hurt"

"Well - it won't be my Dad" Virginia declared firmly. "My Dad promised me that he will be home as soon as he can. He said it was important for him to do his part - that he serve this country"

"You're Dad has always been a hard worker" Edith, one of the Caucasian girls observed proudly. "I know my Dad misses having him working on the farm. No one milks cows like your Dad, Ginnie - or fixes fences, or even rides horses! My Dad can't round up the cows on his horse. He keeps falling off!"

Virginia smiled warmly at Edith as they approached the general store and stopped before the entrance.

"Now" Bobby said, gathering the children into a circle and fishing around in the pockets of his shorts. "Let's put all of our money together and see what we've got"

Each of the children reached into their own pockets and purses to add their own coins to Bobby's. Some of them had less than the others but it didn't matter, for these children looked after one another regardless of who had more or less.

Virginia looked crest fallen as she fidgeted nervously on the spot. Evidently, she didn't have any money of her own to contribute.

"Don't worry Ginnie" Bobby reassured her. "I'll cover for you"

"No!" Virginia retorted firmly. "I won't let you".

Hesitating, Virginia turned to face the small haberdashery directly across the street from the general store. She spied an attractive woman in the window, with similarly raven black hair to Virginia's own that was tied back in a bun. Her flawless nut brown skin was much lighter than Virginia's, her facial features were soft, angelic almost. The woman wore a pretty floral dress underneath a cream colored, linen apron. She was arranging some rolls of material in the window display and, upon seeing Virginia; she smiled broadly and waved her in through the glass. Virginia returned her own grin, bounded across the street and entered the shop and immediately went to the woman.

"Ginnie!" the woman beamed, leaning down to embrace the child warmly.

"Mum!" Virginia wrapped her arms around her mother's shapely neck. 

"Well, look at you. You're all goose pimply from that swimming hole"

Sylvia Crammond brushed down her daughters’ summery dress that she herself had made and gently pinched the skin on Virginia's arm.

"I hope you've been behaving yourself down there"

Virginia nodded eagerly and gestured out through the window at her companions gathered outside the general across the street.

"Everyone wants to get an ice cream Mum. I don't have any money to get one"

Virginia eyed her mother plaintively as Sylvia regarded her daughter with mock skepticism.

"Well...I don't know if you should be having such things so close to dinner time young lady. You'll ruin your appetite"

"Aww Mum" Virginia pleaded. "I promise I'll eat my dinner - all of it - even my vegetables"

Sylvia cocked her head slightly and leveled her suspicious glare before smiling once more. Reaching into the pouch of her apron, Sylvia drew out a single silver coin, proffering it in front of Virginia.

Virginia's eyes went wide and she gasped with delight. Sylvia dropped the coin into her daughter's hand as Virginia planted a big kiss on Sylvia's cheek.

"Thank you Mum!" she beamed.

Sylvia drew her daughter away and held Virginia out before her, gazing lovingly at her. She smoothed down Virginia's dress, frowning only half seriously at a couple of dirty stains from the water hole. They were extremely close. The absence of her husband had taken a toll on Sylvia though outwardly, she would never reveal it. Sylvia had become accustomed to maintaining her stoic demeanor for the sake of her daughter whom she knew, missed her father terribly. They carried on as best they could with the support of a select group of towns-folk who watched out for Sylvia and Virginia.  

"I'll be finished here soon," Sylvia assured her daughter. "Go and get your treat and hang about until I finish. Then we'll go home and make our dinner"

Virginia nodded then diverted her eyes over her mother's shoulder as a tall and stately woman breezed into the room from the back of the shop armed with a cup of tea.

Mrs. Stinson stood nearly 6 feet tall and was painfully thin with piercing, owl-like eyes and a prominent that was turned upward slightly, making her appear very posh. She wore a dark dress under her own apron, her nut brown hair was pulled back in a severe bun and she looked, for all the world, like a very harsh personality.  But when Mrs. Stinson smiled, all trace of potential menace disappeared in an instant  and her face lit up the room - as it had now upon seeing Virginia talking with her mother.

"Well good afternoon dear child!" Mrs. Stinson greeted in a perfectly clipped accent. "You look as though you've had most wonderful time"

Setting her cup down on the counter top, Mrs. Stinson rounded it gracefully and swept over to Virginia and her mother, cupping Virginia's cheek in her hand in a motherly gesture.

"We made a much longer daisy chain today Mrs. Stinson" Virginia reported proudly. "There were plenty near the water hole today"

"Well I hope you didn't stay out in the sun for too long my dear," Mrs. Stinson continued. "We don't want you burnt o a crisp out there"

"No Mrs. Stinson" Virginia nodded respectfully. "We were really good. Made sure we stayed under the willow"

"Ahhh - that willow. Do you know that willow tree has been by that waterhole since I was your age?"

Virginia nodded silently, having heard that story from the haberdashery owner countless times before. She fidgeted in front of the imposing figure of Mrs. Stinson for a moment as silence fell between them. She looked up at her mother.

"Go on" Sylvia smiled. "Go and get your ice cream. I'll be along soon".

Mrs. Stinson nodded in understanding and winked at the child. Virginia turned and darted out of the shop, across the street to where the other children were still waiting.

Mrs. Stinson watched as the children disappeared into the general store one by one.

"She's growing up so fast" Mrs. Stinson mused cheerily as she picked up her tea and sipped quietly from the fine bone china. "Have you heard anything at all from Artie?"

Sylvia hung her head slightly and shook it.

"Beryl keeps a close eye on the telegraph for me but there's been nothing now for nearly three weeks," Sylvia's quiet voice cracked with emotion. "The wireless news talked about rumors of a major push soon but...I don't know if he's involved in it or not"

Sylvia stifled the urge to cry right then as Mrs. Stinson set her cup down and put an arm around Sylvia's shoulder.

News and correspondence from the battlefield was often sporadic at best but at least Sylvia was able to get something from her husband. That the correspondence had trailed away to nothing for nearly a month now, was worrying in the extreme and had plagued Sylvia with many a sleepless night. It did not help that her husband was Aboriginal and as such, his correspondence was generally treated more poorly by the mail handlers in the Army.

"There, there child" Mrs. Stinson soothed. "Look, why don't you finish early today. I'll close up here and call on you both a little later"

Sylvia looked across at her employer through swollen eyes.

"No, no - I'll finish these last few tasks. There's not much left to do"

Mrs. Stinson held up her hand and silenced Sylvia.

"I can finish that for. I'll not have another word from you on the matter. Go and spend time with your daughter"

Sylvia nodded gratefully and bowed her head, wiping away a single tear from her eye.

"Thank you" she whispered.

*                      *                      *

Armed with a single coned ice cream each, the seven children sat themselves down in a neat row on the curbside outside the general store. They immediately went to work, enjoying their treat in the warm afternoon sun, licking furiously as the ice cream began to melt and drip down over their fingers.

Sylvia emerged from the haberdashery and crossed over the street armed with a kerchief in one hand, having spied her daughter battling with her own cone from the moment she herself sat down.

Sylvia instantly sat beside Virginia and assisted wiping her daughters’ hands, while Virginia tried furiously to get a handle on the melting vanilla ice cream. All of the children giggled at one another as they observed each others handy-work.

The breeze that rustled through the tops of the plane trees lining the street and the eucalyptus behind the buildings. The strong scent from the eucalyptus wafted through the main street catching Virginia's attention and she stopped for a moment to appreciate it. It was her most favorite smell of all. It was clean and crisp. It was home.


All of the children turned then, almost simultaneously at the sound of Bobby's voice and followed his outstretched finger as a trio of vehicles came into view from the far end of the township. As they approached, the children could make out the familiar black and white colors of a police sedan leading the convoy of three, followed by a gray sedan which was in turn shepherded by a rickety looking tray truck.

Instantly they were all filled with nervousness and they glanced at each other.

Mrs. Stinson appeared at the entrance to her shop, having heard the approaching vehicles and she crossed over the street to stand next to Sylvia.

The vehicles continued to draw inexorably closer until they were almost upon the group. Then, they slowed to a stop, drawing close to the curb on the opposite side of the street. The children said nothing as the engines were silenced and the three cars sat for a moment in the tranquil main street. Bobby stood, immediately suspicious of the new arrivals.

The doors to both the police sedan and the nondescript gray sedan snapped open. Two constables stepped out onto the street as did two suited men after them, from the gray sedan in the middle. They inspected their surroundings with a mixture of befuddlement and barely concealed distaste.

Virginia's attention was inexplicably drawn to the two suited men who stood directly across from her.

The first man - the driver - was incredibly tall, possibly the tallest man Virginia had ever seen - taller even than her father. Dressed in a drab, gray tweed suit and colorless bow tie, the man sported spiky, balding hair that was perfectly manicured into an impeccable short back and sides. His features were sinister, with long sallow cheeks that gave his thin lips the appearance of being permanently pursed. His eyes were distorted behind thick, black rimmed glasses that sat, perched precariously on the tip of his elongated nose. He held a clipboard in one arm, close to his chest as he swiped his free hand down his jacket absently.

His colleague, who emerged from the far side of the sedan, rounding the front of the vehicle to stand next to him, was an equally dour presence. This man was barely half his colleague's size, his head reaching to just past the top of his chest. Dressed similarly in uninspiring gray tweed, his slick, brown hair was combed severely to one side and held in place with bryll cream. It did not move at all in the gentle afternoon breeze. This man sported a pair of gold rimmed glasses over small eyes and large, bushy eye brows and he sported a short, thick mustache that gave him a perpetual scowl.       

Virginia's mother glanced sideways at Mrs. Stinson then placed her hand protectively on Virginia's shoulders, drawing Virginia close to her as the tall man set his eyes upon the group. She glanced sideways to the old tray truck from which two more men had stepped from. She recognized one of them right away. It was the township's kindly local doctor, Dr. Flaherty, a man who usually wore an almost perpetual smile no matter what his disposition might be. Today, however, he appeared particularly troubled. He was accompanied by a second man, a man unfamiliar to both Virginia and her mother. He carried a battered leather Gladstone bag which was partly opened and revealed the end of a stethoscope that hung lazily down one side. Evidently, he too was a doctor.

When Virginia looked up at her mother, the worry etched into her features was palpable and Virginia felt that worry seep into her pores, into her blood and it coursed through her.

The tall man adjusted the clip board he held in his arm and gestured wordlessly to the two medicos, approaching the two women who were now joined by the proprietor of the general store, the butcher immediately next door and the post mistress. The children, who had retreated a little further under the verandah of the store, watched as the man nodded to the police constables on his left.

Mrs. Stinson stepped forward through the group then, puffing her chest out boldly, setting her expression like cold steel as the men approached them.

She eyed Dr. Flaherty to her left.

"What seems to be the trouble Wally?" she queried malevolently. "This is all a little theatrical, even for you"

Dr Flaherty was unable to make his jaw move immediately and he looked down awkwardly at the bitumen.

"Routine inspection Grace" the doctor grumbled, gesturing to the two suited men. "This is Bytes of the Aborigines Protection Board. He's here to..."

"There have been reports, from this District," the tall man, Bytes, interjected abruptly, eyeballing Mrs. Stinson. "...Of malnourishment and serious illness among the blacks. It is our job under the Act to investigate any reported cases of neglect and intervene accordingly"

Sylvia, visibly stiffened at the way Bytes cast a pejorative edge on the word black then, but she remained silent, her fear far outweighing her anger at this point.

"Malnourishment", Mrs. Stinson exclaimed incredulously. "Whatever in the world gave you that idea?"

Dr. Flaherty fidgeted where he stood, rubbed the back of his neck and tried to make himself appear as small as possible in the foreboding presence of Mrs. Stinson. However, it wasn't too long before the austere business woman leveled her glare firmly upon the medico once more.

"Wally? Do you want to explain this?"

She stepped forward suddenly until she was standing before Dr. Flaherty. The doctor seemed to wither where he stood.

"L...look, its mandatory Grace" he whispered fearfully to her. "If I get a call from the Board requesting information, I've got to give it - under the law! They could toss me in gaol otherwise".

Bytes stepped forwards towards the children and inspected cursorily, before signalling to his counterpart behind him. The second bureaucrat stepped forward and for several moments, they whispered between themselves, occasionally pointing to the children and gesturing with a nod towards the doctor accompanying Dr. Flaherty.

Finally the two men stepped towards the children, causing all of them to flinch and withdraw further. Gesturing with a nod to the two police constables on his left, Bytes extended a finger towards the group.

"You will all step forward!" he snapped chillingly. "Now!"

Both Sylvia and Mrs. Stinson and moved to stand in front of the children. Mrs. Stinson leveled her eyes at one of the police constables.

"Barry. Don't be so ridiculous. You're scaring the children".

The constable named Barry seemed to falter slightly and let his shoulders loosen – indicating that he had some sympathy for her opinion right then, but he quickly regained his composure when Bytes whipped his head around and glared menacingly at him.

"Look here Ma’am. I am here on the authority of the South Australian government and I don't have all day".

The bureaucrat, Bytes, was now standing so close to Mrs. Stinson now that she could smell his breath when he spoke.  Not surprisingly, it was foul, a mixture of tobacco and halitosis. She wrinkled her nose accordingly. Sylvia, standing slightly behind her, tightened her grip on Virginia.

"We are going to examine the aborigines and determine whether or not they need to be treated further down in Adelaide!"

Bytes jutted his lower jaw forward until he was mere inches from Mrs. Stinson.

"I will have you arrested if you interfere in our work".

Hesitating, Mrs. Stinson looked over at Sylvia who was clearly worried. She proffered her hand, palm down in a gesture of reassurance.

Bobby, Lucy and Albert all lined up side by side on the curb while Virginia, clearly petrified, clung tighter to her mother's leg. One by one, the children were examined by both doctors right there in the street. They were given, what amounted to, as thorough a physical that could be given outdoors. The local doctor, Dr. Flaherty was more gentle with his charges, Bobby and Lucy, than his counterpart who wrestled with a fidgeting Albert, who refused to comply.

The owner of the general store stepped out onto the pavement from his vantage point and stood, observing silently while several other people stopped a little way off.

Stethoscopes were placed all over the children's chests and backs, their temperatures were taken and noted, tongue depressors were slapped firmly down and throats examined, their heights recorded. When it came to Virginia's turn, she squeaked, terrified and hid even further behind her mother. The government doctor was not at all impressed and grabbed at her angrily. Sylvia stood her ground.

"Listen you! I will examine this child" the doctor hissed as Bytes stepped forward to assist.

He grabbed Virginia's arm and wrenched it, whipping Virginia's body like a rag doll out from behind her mother. Dr. Flaherty flinched, clearly uncomfortable. Bytes deposited Virginia roughly in a standing position in front of him on the road way.

Dazed now and paralyzed with fear, Virginia remained frozen.

"Now bloody stand still!" he barked, gesturing for the doctor to continue.

He listened to her chest, examined her throats, felt under her chin and neck.

"Cough" he barked at her soullessly.

Virginia gave a pathetic little hiccup that barely resembled anything like a cough.

"Properly!" the doctor hissed, growing increasingly frustrated. Sylvia stepped forward anxiously but was warned off by the constable nearest her.

When Virginia coughed, properly this time, flecks of blood hit the roadway between her and the doctor.

Immediately, he looked up at Bytes who had his folder opened and was writing something down in it.

"Mmm-Hmm" he mused caustically.

A renewed feeling of dread flooded through Sylvia and she tried to go to her daughter. This time the constable stepped into her path and grabbed her arm.

"No" she hissed.

"Right!" Bytes announced dispassionately. "This one and..."

He looked at the doctor beside Flaherty, waiting for his suggestion.

The doctor pointed at Albert who was trembling, beside Bobby.

Without even hearing the words, Sylvia knew instinctively what was about to happen. It was no secret what these bureaucrats were here to do. She had heard stories of others further afield who had come to the attention of the Aborigines Protection Board.

Her heart was in her mouth as time seemed to slow to a crawl.

"You can't!" Sylvia screamed as Bytes grabbed Virginia's arm once more and delivered her into the hands of the second constable - Barry.

"What are you doing?!" Mrs. Stinson implored furiously as the constable lead Virginia to Byte's car.

"Mum!" Virginia squealed, petrified as she was lead away.

"I'm taking these children into protective custody so we can examine them further down in Adelaide. Clearly there is evidence here of illness and neglect. We will decide whether they will be returned or not"

As Byte's colleague moved to round up Albert, Bobby stepped forward, shielding him from the bureaucrat.

"Don't be a bloody black fool" the bureaucrat spat, pushing Bobby out of the way.

Bobby retaliated, ball his hand into a fist and whipping it up viciously, catching the bureaucrat with a blow to his chest.

Immediately, the second constable launched into action and he pounced on Bobby while the stricken man collapsed to the road, the wind having been sucked from his lungs. Bytes himself lurched forward and grabbed Albert with the help of the government doctor and Flaherty.

Sylvia launched herself at the car, where Virginia had been deposited into the back seat.

Her heart pounded noisily in her head.

This can't be happening. This can't be happening!

The terrified child screamed at the top of her lungs and bashed at the window with her fist while the police constable subdued Sylvia and prevented her from getting any closer to the car.

Bytes and the two doctors, who all had a firm grip on the kicking and screaming Albert, quickly carried him to the vehicle and tossed him inside on the opposite side.

Mrs. Stinson was impotent with rage.

"How can you do this!? That child's father is serving his country!"

Bytes simply shook his head as he rounded the rear of the car and went over to check on his winded colleague.

"He'll be notified...if we decide to do so"

The pair of police constables shielded the car while Mrs. Stinson rushed to Sylvia's side, gathering her in her arms as Sylvia’s legs went to jelly and she collapsed to the roadway, wailing hysterically. Mrs. Stinson cradled her as she glared at Constable Barry with disgust.

“What have you done!?”

Bytes assisted his colleague to the car, set him inside then quickly got into the driver's side and started the engine. The constables fell back to their own vehicle while the doctor signaled to Flaherty, who was standing off to one side and appeared shell shocked.

Inside the car, Virginia continued to scream and punch at the glass – utterly panic stricken, while Albert sobbed and sobbed kicking at the passenger door. As the car pulled away from the curb, both children huddled together, wrapping their arms around each other. They went strangely silent.

Sylvia desperately, frantically reached out with her hand towards the car as it pulled away from her.

“Noooo!” she wailed.

All three vehicles executed a full turn in the middle of the township then accelerated away from where they had come.

Though she was too young to comprehend the full gravity of what had just happened Virginia Crammond knew in the depths of her soul that she would never see her mother again.  



  1. Wow! I really enjoyed it and want to know more about what happens to Virginia! I am intrigued by the story and can't wait to read the rest of it. You certainly have a gift for writing and a way with words. Your vivid description of the scene in the beginning took me to this foreign place on a beach far in the past. Keep up the good work and let me know when you publish it!

  2. Dean, I love it. I think one of your biggest talents as a writer is showing the reader what people look like. I think it impresses me so much because I struggle with it! Great job. Keep working.

  3. Thanks so much Anne - but I think you sell yourself way short because I have found your character descriptions especially vivid.

  4. I'm running out the door and didn't have time for the whole thing...only time to say that my favorite part was when the girl says "Bloody hell!" Probably not helpful. Will come back later if can find the place. :)

  5. Ah, just lovely, Dean. So sad and poignant. I feel so much for this little girl. Such a vivid character already. Well done, guy.

  6. @Anita - lolz! In my mind it was funny. Hope you can come back to it.

  7. @Cee - Thank you! for stopping by - it means a lot to me. What you've read here in this opening piece is very much based on factual accounts of Aboriginal children being forcibly removed from their families during an era of Australian history known by the rather ominous title of the White Australia Policy. This actually happened all across our nation in an effort to assimilate the black population into the "mainstream" and wrought incredible damage on those who were subject to it. You'll see how much damage it had done to Virginia as I work on the manuscript.

  8. Such strong description! Great job. And, a very good setup to what I think is a very compelling story.

  9. So, so good Dean, I can't wait to read more...

  10. You have such a wonderful way with description. I could almost smell the warm air and grass around the watering hole. I hate that the preview stopped here! I need to know what happens to Virginia.

  11. I loved your descriptions, Dean. You paint the picture beautifully. Such a tragic tale, and you are starting it wonderfully. My attention is grabbed in the beginning, and you get a sense of the normal happy life the child has. Then it's ripped away, it breaks your heart. I see a tear jerker in the works here...

  12. I think dialogue is your strength, Dean. You're off to a good start. 30,000 words is about where I am on my current historical mystery novel.

  13. Sad and gripping! Your detail really paints a picture in my mind. Great work!