So, this week, I'm going to share another preview with you. And to stick with a little bit of continuity, I'm going to pick up young Virginia's story after she is taken by the authorities from her tranquil life in the Adelaide Hills. This preview actually occurs a little way further in to the manuscript because I'm structuring Virginia's back story as a series of flashbacks which will serve the main story that takes place in contemporary 2011. Again, this is an unpolished piece, probably bristling with grammatical flubs which I make no excuse for at this point. I want to encourage your feedback. Tell me what you think, what you like, what you don't like. Tear me down if you have to!! :)
A single rattle trap utility bumped along a dusty road, heading towards an, as yet, unseen destination. It kicked up plumes of dust behind it that were caught up and carried away by a languid breeze, disappearing into an overcast sky above a field of yellow pasture. Clouds had gathered on the near horizon behind the truck. Tendrils of rain fell from them but it was unlikely that rain would catch the truck any time soon. The fields around the truck, the sparse population of sheep and cattle that grazed within them had not seen rain for a long time.
A small figure sat huddled in the tray of the truck, holding onto the wooden sides with a vice like grip every time the truck shuddered over a pot hole in the track.
uncomfortably as she bounced on the wooden surface, her tail bone hitting it
harshly and causing her pain. She did not dare protest to the driver inside the
cabin. It was likely fall on deaf ears anyhow. Virginia
She felt sick - she always felt sick nowadays. Not since she had been taken from her mother, did she remember feeling anything but sick. The food that she had been served up, day after day at the hospital where she had lived for the past few months was little more than gruel. Eventually, and unbeknownst to the Sisters there,
eating the food altogether. To her mind, it was patently inedible. Virginia
A lifetime had passed - it seemed like a lifetime anyway - since she had seen her mother. The very thought of her mother and not being with weighed down so heavily upon
threatened to crush her. Even now, the memory of her mother caused tears to
well up and Ginnie could not hold them back. The grief was overwhelming. She
couldn't understand why her mother never came to get her and take her home, nor
could she understand why her questions about seeing her mother again were
dismissed by the people who had taken her. No one had told her anything really;
except that she was sick and that her mother could no longer look after her. Virginia
She had been separated from Albert not long after they had been brought to the hospital in the city. Though she had seen him once or twice some time after they arrived, Albert was eventually taken away from there and he all but disappeared. They wouldn't even tell her where he had gone.
with her questioning, drawing the ire of the Sisters and Aboriginal Protection
Officers. She had been punished many times - severely - for defying their
instructions whilst she was in the hospital, for refusing to eat her meals, for
trying to escape, for crying for hours on end in the depths of the night.
stopped fighting them, defying them. A deep depression set in - a grief. She
grieved for her mother and father. She grieved for Albert and the other
children. She grieved for home. After a time, Virginia stopped eating or sleeping,
interacting or speaking. Her voice vanished and she allowed her captors to do
with her, whatever they desired. Virginia
Now, inexplicably, she was here. They had bundled her up into this rickety truck without explanation, driven out of the hospital and away from the city on a road that seemed endless, its destination uncertain. She had sat for hours, passing through rain and wind and the blistering sun with nothing but a canvas sheet to protect her. They had told her nothing.
The truck passed by a tall, gnarled, dead tree standing solitary in the field near the road.
glanced up at it, spying two crows sitting side by side on a twisted branch.
One of them issued a long, mournful caw as the truck passed by. She stared
blankly at them through bloodshot eyes until they were out of sight and the
road angled around to the right. The tree shrank to a speck behind her,
swallowed up by the vastness of the landscape. Virginia
A line of bald hills flanked the road to the north on her left while, to the south, the fields threw stretched away into infinity. There was so much space - yet
claustrophobic by its vastness. Virginia
heard the sound
of a dog barking and she turned her head slightly to the left. A lean black and
white cattle dog galloped along beside the truck at a cracking pace, its tongue
flapping along side in the breeze. The dog jumped deftly over the uneven ground
beside the road, flanking the vehicle, yapping enthusiastically up at Virginia
who just stared dumbfounded at the mutt. Virginia
Overcoming a great inertia,
turned herself around and looked through the rear window of the cabin. Out
through the windshield, she saw a farm house up ahead, an austere sand stone
homestead with a wide verandah that wrapped all the way around it. Several
smaller buildings stood off to one side. Several palms bordered the property
near a fence that stretched along the front of the grounds. Virginia
For the first time in what seemed an eternity, her curiosity was piqued.
The truck slowed as it approached the property allowing the enthusiastic dog to leap across in front of it. It passed through an entrance and over a steel cattle grate, scattering a group of chickens in all directions just beyond, before it turned in a wide arc around a lush circle of lawn in front of the farm house. The driver brought the vehicle to a stop and killed the engine.
At the foot of the stairs leading up to the verandah of the house, stood a tall man wearing a flannel shirt, dusty brown pants with suspenders and an aging leather belt and a wide brimmed pastoralist's hat that sat low, concealing his eyes and much of his face in shadow. A long cob pipe jutted from one corner of his mouth, curling wisps of blue smoke drifted up into the air from it. The man stood, his huge arms bent at the elbows, his hands in his pockets, silent.
The driver stepped out of the cabin of the truck and strode around to the rear. Once there, he signaled with a sharp gesture of his hand and a shrill whistle.
"Come on," he snapped.
Hoisting himself up into the tray, the driver snatched the bag out of
's hands and angrily tossed it over
the side. Before she knew what was happening, he grabbed her arm roughly and
jerked her to her feet, dragging her like a rag doll off the back of the truck.
Once off the ground, he leaned close to her. Virginia
"Pick up your bag you little grub"
He let her go and immediately stood tall, flashing a broad, cheesy smile as he adjusted his Stetson on his head and walked up to the man at the foot of the verandah.
The dog, who had sat itself down on the ground several feet away, watched the crumpled form of the girl beside the truck. Slowly, she got to her feet and stepped slowly over to her up ended bag. The dog, its tall ears pricked up and forward, whimpered softly, its long tongue lolling.
The driver offered his hand to the silent man who remained statue-like where he stood. He did not return the gesture.
"Good afternoon Sir" the driver greeted drippingly, withdrawing his hand quickly in a pathetic attempt to pretend that he had meant to swat an insect from in front of his face. "I'm...I'm Whitchester, from the Aborigines Protection Office"
The Pastoralist's eyes were focused beyond Whitchester, upon the child who stepped gingerly towards them, her bare feet flinching on the hot, dusty ground. Her dress was dirty, plain and torn in a coupe of places. She looked sick and pasty, despite her dark skin.
Whitchester turned and subtly dragged
by her arm around to stand in front of him. He placed his hands down on her
shoulders, causing her to wince. Virginia
"This is the colored you asked for" Whitchester said hastily.
The Pastoralist tilted his head slightly, examining the child from head to toe. His expression remained as flat as
After a few moments, he opened his mouth. Virginia
"She's a bit small. She got the mange or something?"
"No, no - not at all," Whitchester answered hastily. "It's perhaps just the drive up. We passed through some weather on the way. I can assure you, the Office has given the black a clean bill of health. It'll be...productive".
The Pastoralist took a huge, meaty hand out of his pocket and rubbed his chin thoughtfully allowing several more moments of silence to pass between them. On the verandah behind him two figures huddled at the corner of the house, watching the exchange silently.
He cocked his head around to his right and issued a shrill dog whistle that echoed across the compound. The two figures, two young Aboriginal girls several years older than
quickly along the verandah and stopped at the top of the stairs. Virginia
Without turning, the Pastoralist spoke.
"Take her to the out house. Clean her up. Get her out of those rags"
One of the young women skipped down the stairs and went across to
The barefoot teenaged girl wore a crisp, white linen dress with an apron. Her hair was shiny and combed neatly to one side. When she reached
she flashed her a warm, encouraging
smile and took her hand. The girl's skin felt soft and velvety against Virginia 's own. Quite
felt a sharp jolt of something that had not experienced in a while. Virginia
It was hope.
As the girl stepped up onto the verandah, the dog sitting across the compound tracked them both with its eyes until they disappeared around the side of the house.
The Pastoralist waited until the girls were out of sight then he turned on his heel and ascended the stairs silently, leaving Whitchester to stand there alone, awkwardly.
Eventually, hesitantly, he turned and climbed into the truck. He started the engine and drove away from the farm house, disappearing over the horizon as though he had never existed.
From a window of the farm house, a pair of eyes that were peeking out from behind a curtain, held back by a petite and feminine hand, lingered for a time after everyone had gone. The hand released the curtain and the eyes too were gone.
* * *
It was the first bath she'd had in days and though she didn't say it,
felt indescribably good to be clean
once more. Virginia
One of the girls, whose name was Deliah, fussed over
's hair, massaging it with the ends
of her fingers, ridding it of all the dust and the grime that had accumulated.
The second girl, the one who had first greeted Virginia , was perched on her haunches in
front of her, armed with a flannelette cloth and was cleaning her face. This
girl, Marjorie, chatted away to Virginia as she washed, telling her all about
the farm, the chickens in the yard, the wood they used for the fire, the
shearing sheds nearby where the sheep were brought to for shearing, the stables
where the horses were housed and the farm house with it's beautiful furniture,
it's large kitchen with a big old cast iron stove and the ginger cat that
flopped around lazily on the table there. Virginia
from her bath and was dried off with fluffy white towels. They dressed her in a
brand new white, cotton dress, similar to the ones they wore and an apron. Virginia
Deliah combed her hair, parting it carefully to one side until she was satisfied, then she nodded to herself.
"There you are" she said simply. "Good as new"
"You don't say much do you," Deliah noted. "Can't you talk?"
"Well, that's no good" Marjorie observed dryly. "Because we love to talk around here. We always talk - especially to the animals. They're the best ones to talk to. All the time! Talk, talk, tal..."
"You love to talk Marjy," Deliah cut in gruffly. "You'd talk the leg off a horse if you were given the chance"
Marjorie appeared hurt for a fraction of a second before she smiled and winked at
with her hands on her hips. Virginia
"You don't have to talk if you don't want to...but it would be helpful to know your name"
She cocked her head slightly, waiting for an answer.
Unperturbed, Deliah turned and went over to the bag
had brought with her, which lay on the bed. Virginia
Deliah opened the flap and rifled through it casually, looking for anything that might be labeled. Sure enough, she lifted one of the hospital dresses out of the bag and inspected its collar.
"V. Crammond" Deliah announced. "V...what is that...Violet?"
"Hmmm" Deliah mused. "Viole...What about Veronica?"
didn't move, didn't speak. Virginia
Deliah frowned then looked down into the bag once more. She reached in and pulled out a rather squashed and wrinkly rag doll - a bear - with patches all over and one missing button eye.
She turned it over in her hands and looked closely at some text written on a tag that jutted out from one hip.
"Virginia" Deliah said. "Is it
Marjorie grinned broadly and clapped her hands together.
"Oooh - that is a lovely name" she gushed.
Deliah carefully returned the items to her bag and closed the flap once more. She stepped towards
it is then.
We'll look after you here Virginia .
This place isn't like the hospital. It's...different" Virginia
"We have lots of things to do and we're always bus..."
The door to the out building flung open abruptly and the huge figure of the Pastoralist stepped through the entrance, ducking his head slightly to avoid hitting it on the door frame.
Both Deliah and Marjorie snapped to attention as his rose to his full height once more, while Virginia froze where she stood, blinking up at the Pastoralist, completely dumb founded.
He eyeballed all three girls.
"You got her clean yet!?" his voice boomed in the confines of the room, causing both girls to shudder where they stood, while
remained deathly still. Virginia
The Pastoralist inspected
up and down. He reached out and grabbed her hands in his own, seemingly
monstrous palms. He turned them over in his, checking to make sure they were
clean. He inspected her nails to ensure there was no dirt trapped underneath
Once he was satisfied, he let them go and stood back.
"Put her to work!" he snapped malevolently. "There are chores to be done!
The Pastoralist scowled at them, before backing out of the room and leaving without shutting the door.
Once he was gone, Deliah and Marjorie looked at each other with barely contained relief.
Marjorie crept cautiously over to the entrance and peeked around the door frame to make sure he was gone.
Deliah put her hand on
's shoulder. Virginia
"Come on kiddo" she said flatly. "We'll start you out on the verandah"
And it was on the verandah, where it began - this new life that
had been foisted into. She had no
idea what was expected of her, no idea why she was here. Deliah fetched a wide
broom that was leaning up against the stone work of the house and placed it
into Virginia 's
hands. She gestured to the dusty wooden boards of the verandah. Virginia
"Start" she said simply.
While Deliah assigned herself to an axe handle and Marjorie spirited herself away to the kitchen,
stood on the front porch of the house, armed with the broom that was almost
twice as tall as she was. Slowly, steadily, Virginia extended the broom outward in her
hands and began sweeping. Virginia
With a methodical rhythm,
quietly swept away what were the vestiges of her old life under the bristles of
the broom. It began well before dawn, when the night sky still twinkled with a
billion stars, with the twice daily routine of sweeping the entire verandah of
dust and grit. She was then directed to the chicken coop, down behind the out
house where she slept, where she collected the eggs then cleaned out the coop -
a constant battle she undertook with birds flying about her head and defecating
on her if she was not careful. After that, Virginia was put to work in the horse
stables, feeding the Pastoralists four horses hay each morning and night,
ensuring they had fresh water and mucking out the stables. Sometimes, she
chopped wood in the darkness of the pre-dawn and long after dusk, regardless of
the weather, wearing nothing but her linen dress and no shoes on her feet.
Chopping the firewood was the one task that frightened her. She struggled with
the heavy axe and could barely wield it. She constantly feared that she would
break it and she had already witnessed the consequences of breaking one of the
Pastoralists tools. Virginia
Once, Deliah had done just that whilst attempting to split a particularly knotted piece of timber. Deliah had brought the axe handle down, striking the wood awkwardly. The handle broke clean in two. She stood there, blinking at the broken end of the handle. As if from nowhere, the Pastoralist materialized and stormed up to Deliah like a monstrous wraith, bellowing with fury. He snatched the broken handle from Deliah, grabbed her throat with a huge, meaty hand and smashed the splintered axe handle across her face, over and over, drawing blood through gaping lacerations. His ferocity wasn't assuaged until she lapsed into unconsciousness. Then, calmly, he threw her to the ground and walked away, the bloodied axe handle still in his hand.
Stunned by the horror she had witnessed,
turned away and continued with her own work, too frightened to go to Delilah’s
aid. She withdrew even further and refused to even look at the other girls or
anyone who came to the farm. Virginia
Her mundane routine continued on and on and eventually,
lost all concept of time. One day
melded into another. She saw the sun rise and set before anyone else. Hours
were swept away underneath the bristles of her broom. She made every effort to
avoid the attention of the Pastoralist. She quickly grew to fear him...to hate
him and she made sure she kept as far away and out of view as possible. Virginia
One particular evening, just on dusk, when the shrill song of crickets floated across the fields,
moved along the verandah in one direction, sweeping the wooden boards clean,
quietly proud of her work. She was careful to ensure that she had covered each
part of the verandah twice, making sure that no area was missed or that a rogue
collection of dust had accumulated behind her. The Pastoralist would skin her
alive if the boards were not perfect. Virginia
The dog sat beside a rocking chair while she worked, watching her. The dog had become a constant companion, even though
continued to ignore his presence. Virginia
mind filled with images of home - as it often did - memories of sweeping the
small verandah of her parents’ cottage. Virginia Virginia
would look up to see her mother's smiling face as she watched with gratitude. Other memories
infiltrated. Of riding tall on her father's shoulders, laughing and singing as
together, walked along a track under the boughs of the eucalypts near the town. Virginia
She struggled to prevent herself from being overwhelmed by grief as she stood here alone, on this vast porch that could, for all the world, have swallowed her whole. She broke down silently. Tears spilled from
eyes and dropped onto the boards under her feet. Panicked, she swept them away
with her broom, fearing that the Pastoralist would see her and punish her. She
felt herself growing despondent Virginia
Why am I here? Why can't I go home?
The questions echoed, reverberating off corners and around bends inside her mind, tormenting her.
She looked across the compound, out through gates of the farm, along the road that disappeared into the vast distance where - for all she knew - there was an all consuming nothingness. Her desolation was complete.
Suddenly, from behind
a sound issued forth from the closed window. It was a sound that Virginia had never heard
before - a long, crisp refrain that seemed to go on forever. It wavered
melodically then dissipated into nothingness. Virginia
In the parlor beyond, a woman sat in a plush chair her back to the window. A gramophone with a large brass horn stood on a pedestal in front if the woman. She was perched slightly forward and was holding something in her hands, up against her neck.
squinted in the
soft light from the parlor, trying to make out what it was. The woman drew a
long, thin stick with a string tied to it across the object, eliciting a sound
- the sound that Virginia
had heard. Virginia
Her grief had been completely usurped now, by fascination.
The woman played, stringing several of these long notes together into a coherent stream of sound that sounded all at once somewhat mournful but also very pretty.
She watched, as the woman played some sort of music with the object in her hands. To
, at first
glance, it resembled something akin to a guitar. But she had never seen a
guitar quite that small. Virginia
Her attention was so focused upon the woman inside,
failed to notice that the broom handle beside her started to slide downward
from its position, the head losing its purchase on the wooden boards.
Inevitably, it clattered noisily to the floor. Virginia
Crouching low, below the window sill,
heart pounded in her chest. Panic coursed through her. She was unsure if the
woman inside had spotted her. The dog got to his feet and gingerly stepped
forward towards Virginia ,
whimpering softly with concern. Virginia
Several moments passed before
carefully crept on her haunches to the fallen broom and picked it up as quietly
as she could. She did not dare look around. Satisfied that it was secure in her
quickly skittered away to the other end of the verandah and furiously began
sweeping once more - every so often stealing glances at the window at the far
end of the house. Virginia
The woman inside the parlor stood at the window, looking out upon the spot where, just a few moments before the child had been. She turned to one side and lingered for a moment, a faint smile tugging at the corners if her lips.
Then she turned away.
This preview of "Gifts of the Peramangk" is Copyright