Chapter 06-10

Chapter Six


Appearances can be deceiving. - Take Matilda, looking so comfortable, sprawled on the Bush Tucker Cafe steps, flicking through the Environment Farm Newsletter. Her friend Marcia isn’t the only Aboriginal worker at the Centre now. Pasquale’s hard work has resulted in a composting business. Only the faint quirk of those expressive, dark brows, the slight twist of the full, cherry mouth reveals that all is not well. She is reading but not absorbing. With the back of her hand, she rubs her wide, squashy, little nose. She lifts unseeing eyes to the curve of the creek, the whirring wind-farm blades, and the solar house perched on the rim of the old quarry.

She stares at the vine-clad octagon of the cafe with its pergolas of budding kiwi-fruit vines. Who knows what their fruits may be this Spring of drought? Matilda casts the magazine aside. - They've done wonders here, Manageable. While she, Matilda is considering taking on an unachievable project. - Those vines need strong supports . Say the female vine keels over? What use is a pergola-load of males? Just a rampant display. My father’s projects - Huge, sprawling and uncertain as kiwi-fruits in drought ... Though he does make quite an impression, my Dad. Matilda leans over clasping her knees. - If the pruning's too harsh, the vines get tangled. Wild shoots sapping the vine. Matilda lets out a slow sigh. - Getting caught up with family again. - Need to untangle something or other. This feeling of urgency won't let her go. Ever since Roxby Downs she'd felt it.

Matilda sees again the tawny-red country under the hot, sky-bowl. - Roxby Downs, that fragile, living desert fed by ancient water; the local Aboriginal people drinking from the Springs for thousands of years. - Wise connections to ancient waters. Matilda frowns. - The colossal uranium mine, sucking up the ancient water - a million litres a day, spewing it out – contaminated for centuries, into the vast, tailings dam. Places like Mound Springs - a complex of springs, soaks, bores, bringing replenishment to the dry land. Lose the purity of the water and you lose the lot.

Matilda was just eighteen at Roxby. Still high, on the excitement International Year of Peace?, she muses. Went feral for a while during the Bi-Centennial Year, - 200th Anniversary of white settlement, influenced by the power and energy of the 'Don't Celebrate 1988 actions. Matilda remembers Sydney at Circular Quay - that history-making demonstration when the Aborigines confronted the First Fleet re-enactment ships. Dreadlocks and rags and Blundstone boots. That was me then. Matilda grins. - Even Rory - ageing hippie - gave him a fright. . Matilda cups her chin in her hands. - Roxby Downs. My defining experience, even though I'd grown up with folkies and greenies ever since Rory trotted me off to his gigs at folk festivsls. Bush waif in tattered velvet and bare feet - free as the wind.

- After Mum chucked Dad out. - Matilda winces - Dad's 'finding himself ' phase, when the public re-discovered the riches of Rory's voice - the Australian Folk phase, closely followed by the Irish stage. Then of course the father-daughter gigs - Gospel and Blues. - A great angle - helped his career no end. - Mum never approved. But those Acts got Dad started. And look at the darling man now. Matilda leans back against a vine-coiled post - Roxby, that's when I knew where I was going. Matilda feels the shift. - Yes, I just knew.

A mob of children, released from their school excursion, sprints, whooping for the cafe. Matilda steps aside, clutching at thought tendrils amid the noise and rush, bracing herself against the vine, looking into the tight clusters of unopened buds, the female and male buds as yet undistinguishable one from the other. - Kiwi fruit - just a gimmick name. Should be called Chinese Gooseberry - wrong name - wrong country. At Roxby, I knew where I was going, but not - not where I come from ... And the void opens just as Obie, old friend Obie detaches himself from a knot of school kids and descends on her, while Marcia, beaming takes Matilda's face in her two warm hands.

All smiles, Matilda disentangles herself. The void has gone away for the time being. "The Green Business Project. Fantastic!"

“Yeah. Drought makes things difficult though. Welcome back, Matt!” Obie waves a hand in the direction of the wind farm. " - Paid for by one of the electricity companies."

Matilda is surprised. What about the environment Farm's independence? Time was when community groups valued that. – He who pays the piper …?

"That's not the half of it. 'Granny's Oatmeal and Salami Smallgoods’ came to the rescue of the farm animal's feed costs. – And another two Koories’ve joined Marcia’s Aboriginal project-team."

Marcia sets down mugs and spoons. "Three Aborigines out of a staff of twenty.” She grins at Obie. “Won’t be long till we have you lot outnumbered. Wattle seed coffee. I kid you not. Try it. I've been co-ordinating with the cafe on the Bush Tucker menu. - Near as possible to our food. Updated a bit." Marcia grins - “For the market. - Running workshops on Bush Tucker too It's all happening, ay?” Marcia takes Matilda's hand. "Matt, I'd love to ask you Everything about the Northern Territory but another school group’s coming through soon.. So. To business. - The Bio-Regions and Green Corridors' viability - The Tip Site for the Festival . . ."

Matilda releases Marcia's hands. "No. Marcia. That's not quite the way I'd look at it." But Matilda's protest goes unheard, as with a wave of her arm Marcia encompasses the rocky gorge of the quarry and the permaculture gardens.

“Yes, we oughtta know,” says Marcia, "the time and effort it takes with a disused quarry just to build up the soil. Matt, there are heaps of problems with your project!”

“It’s not my project!” protests Matilda. “I’m only trying to –”

Marcia shifts the coffee-mugs across some invisible line she has in her mind. "One. – Subsidence – unstable tip-site. That's why they have to put in a lake. - Two- A methane vent. It's essential. - To disperse the underground build-up of gases from the tip.” She looks up briefly. "Has to be installed correctly, though. Otherwise trouble."

Matilda’s hair escapes from the coloured band and blows in her eyes. She feels she has started off on the wrong foot, that Obie and Marcia see her as the idealistic outsider too long away in the tropics. “Yes. That's all true.” she cuts in swiftly, "But it's beside the point."

Marcia presses on with her demonstration . "Three.” she says, shifting another coffee mug. "These Theme Park and Green Corridor ... travesties.” There is passion in Marcia's voice. “ - Disneyland. - A con. While they continue denying Aboriginal access to traditional land, woodchip the most precious forests we have in East Gippsland, 'downsize' Aboriginal health, all the while speaking with forked tongues about freedom of speech, so as to give the green light to every racist to say what they like” Marcia shifts another mug emphatically.

"Four. - Green Corridors. - Unworkable. At best a chance for a few more wombats to head for the hills. - and, where do Aboriginal land rights come in - fit us into a little corridor along with the wombats?” Marcia pauses for breath and Obie joins in.

"Marcia's right Matt. The whole project's a con."

"Yes, I agree with you completely.” Matilda replies, eager to defuse her friends’ perceptions that Darwin has turned her into an incurable utopian. “Look. Focus on the over-all strategic value, will you? - The idea of setting a precedent to establish the principle that . . ."

Obie interrupts, "A precedent for a principle! My god Matt. Let's have some plain talking. What principle? Nobody even has the vaguest concept of what a Bio-Region is.”

"But that is exactly my point.”

This time Marcia cuts in, “The point is that effective Bio-Regions would include land rights for my mob, would - ” She searches for a word, “would allow the region to breathe, to - "

Matilda finishes the sentence. “Yes, to breathe, to be itself, to re-establish the ecological inter-dependence. People. Birds and insects. - The whole food chain." Matilda feels her confidence returning. “Hey, this wattle seed coffee's not bad. But look, - Forget all the contradictions for a moment. Focus on the Bio-Regions. Think about the government's Festival backing as a strategic opportunity. - Of course they won't establish effective Green Corridors. The word 'sustainable' is just a trendy term they stick in front of words like 'growth' - which is all that government and corporates care about.” Matilda takes in her hands the hand of Obie and the hand of Marcia. "All the more reason to get the public to think wholistically, about the dangers of depleted water flow to the life-systems of their region, about pesticide-loaded rivers before whole Bio-Regions collapse and we can't grow any food, or the water's undrinkable.’

Matilda leans forward, "It’s not states or nations that shape identity. It’s the piece of turf that people belong to, get their sustenance from. Up North in the red-earth country you feel that.” Matilda wonders why her voice stumbles. "Aboriginal people. You've got it - belonging and responsibility.” She glances briefly into Marcia's eyes. "You know that a Bio-Region's more than a parcel of land ringed by some hills.” Matilda joins together Marcia and Obie's hands, circling them firmly with her own. “Time to recover loyalty to Bio-Region."

Matilda drops her eyes as if in pain. "We know how urgent it is to move public commitment beyond recycling, beyond saving a few forest remnants to an understanding and - and yes, love - of their own local Bio-Region, so people will see, really see how, with the destruction of wet-lands, the natural filter system goes, how then the poisons from cars, factories degrade the health of - of - fish, frogs, land - how it's all connected.” Matilda tightens her clasp of her friends’ hands.

“Yes, get rid of the bitumen and the storm-water drains.” says Obie, with one eye on the clock, “allow reed-beds to re-establish themselves - with a bit of help. Let the bush return.” He pushes the plate away. "But Matt, all that's impossible in the foreseeable future!”

Matilda nods. "Yes. But you have to start somewhere. So what if this decade of Festivals is only a gimmick - the Green Corridors Expansion scheme only lip-service?” Matilda gulps the last of her coffee. “Governments do understand that rational appeal is not enough, that people need symbols - icons, to fire imagination. - Look, remember 1986? - International Year of Peace? People really burnt themselves out that year. And there was a shift - however small towards peace and . ."

"But surely local festivals - Kingfisher Festivals, Blue Devil Festivals haven’t had their day!" says Obie.

"No. They're fine. But, Green Corridors. The government's proposition.” Matilda spreads her hands emphatically, " Piss weak. - But the concept. The idea of linking, restoring, connecting - taking responsibility for the eco-systems - "

"Bit of a risk though - to take up a – flawed process?” Marcia cradles her cup in both hands. "That bloody feeling - belonging to the Land We've all got a stake in surviving, ay? - So, government sponsored Bio-Regions - however cynically we might view them . . ."

“Yes. - however cynically! Bio-Regions could be a step forward. Anyway, for better or worse, eco-system restoration does have a chance by being linked to ten years of these Millennium celebrations.” Matilda puts the coffee mug down, her eyes compelling.

"Even if the Bio-Regions and Green Corridors succeed only as a fashionable idea, then that's a start isn't it?"

“Yes, I get your point.” Obie, stacking the dishes smiles suddenly. "Aha! Then you'd be after - endorsement - support from us here and - and wider. I mean, the program hasn't caught on as a strategy in the environment movement.” Obie rubs his cheek thoughtfully. " A forum, maybe.” “Yes. That could be the way to go.” Marcia glances at her watch. “Ye gods, the time! You still run a persuasive argument, Matilda girl. - You'll come to our next management meeting? After that you'll need to connect with all the other environment groups and . . .”

Matilda grins, "No way - after that we’ll need to connect with . . ."

“ Sure.” Marcia rises abruptly. "Got to fly. You too Obie."

Matilda leans back perilously in her chair, stretching her arms and legs luxuriously. She is back home again. She is understood and the sun, filtered through the budding kiwi vine, is warm on her face. But the void once opened will not go away. She feels herself hovering, like that black crow up there, at home in the updraught of the quarry's rim, but close, too close to the blades of the wind-farm. At any moment, the crow could get caught - sucked into the blades of the machine - glossy, black crow, never knowing where the danger came from - a sodden heap of bloodied feathers. Matilda is startled as Marcia streaks back, grasps her urgently by the shoulders.

“That crow there.” she pants, "Something I've gotta say.” Marcia's eyes are solemn.

“You've got a journey to make, Matt. And you've got responsibilities - more than you know.” The hands grasping Matilda's shoulders are strong, urgent. “So, listen Matilda. You'd better be bloody sure you do it right.” Marcia searches Matilda's face for a long moment .



"You still here Matilda?”Lin's meeting is over and she is all smiles. "Success! Just finalized the employment and training program.” Lin bounds up the Bush Tucker Cafe steps and clasps Matilda in her arms. "A new retail consortium's funding us - 'Born To Shop', I think they're called.”

"Oh c’mon Lin - An electricity company funds the Wind Farm. Continental Salami funds the animals and "Born to Shop' will fund your employment program?

But Matilda's tart response is lost on Lin. "No. It's true!” Lin plants a big kiss on Matilda's forehead. "C'mon. Celebrate! I'm hanging out for a beer. The Badger's Arms. - It's the best! Top Shanghai chef. From my city! Shanghai chef would you believe? Want to come?"

Chapter Seven


“That’s Ahmet’s van isn’t it?” asks Matilda as they pull up in the car-park. Yes. There’s the logo on the door. – The Refuge people must be here. Matilda waves at Ahmet’s tall figure disappearing into the pub.

"Why on earth the Badger's Arms? There's no badgers in Oz."

"Wombats, Lin. - They called wombats badgers.” Matilda tries to explain the early settlers’ odd naming processes. "Wombats looked like very fat badgers. –Must’ve asked the Aborigines for names and not listened properly. - like the way they named the Yarra. Yarra Yarra means 'rapids', or so I've heard. Funny name for a slow-moving river. But perhaps when Batman and his crew pointed to the little spill of waters near where the casino is today, they were told the word for 'rapids'. - Anyway they soon blasted the rock-wall out to let the ships and salt water up-stream." Matilda retrieves her back-pack from the back seat. "Could be that the Koories took the mickey out of the invaders." Lin eases the car into a parking space.

"Oh, yeah. Like the Moomba Festival. Moomba means ‘sit down and have fun' - as well as 'up your bum' - ay?" Lin waves her scarf . "Mick. - Over here!” That's Mick, the guy who runs the . . .”

Matilda finishes Lin's sentence. “ - the Youth Refuge. Yes, I know. - An old friend.”

“You know him too? A very astute guy - politically astute. I mean, managed to keep the youth refuge afloat, and set up a raft of businesses - a building company, coupl'a farms, media company and ... Mick!” Lin calls across the Beer Garden to where Mick and Cal sit engrossed, sorting papers. Matilda is surprised. - Looks like old friend Mick has lots of irons in the fire these days!

"Yes. I - stayed at Mick's the night before last.” Matilda finds herself saying, wondering why she feels she has to explain herself to Lin.

"Aha! An old friend indeed” Lin grins, but there is something unsettling about the lowered eyes. - “So, you are Bi then?” .

Matilda folds a paper serviette into a fan, unfolds it, folds it again, crushing the serviette into a ball. “Lin, give over!” she pleads. "I came here to celebrate your employment contract." Lin clasps Matilda on the shoulder.

"Okay, o-kay. Point taken. I'm going to get a beer. - Want one?"

Lin secures a vacant table. "Mick's been great - finding housing for some of our kids with parent problems. - Cal was the first. Great education approach they've got. – Taking risks with the Globalisation-protest activities tho’.” says Lin, still vainly trying to attract Mick's attention.

Matilda is confused – Globalisation-protest? - New one on me. So Lin admires Mick. - More complications, thinks Matilda, running her finger down the floridly descriptive Beer List and wondering if it's okay to simply order a Foster's. For the time being Mick seems to be fully occupied with Mouse stacking and rearranging the papers, each one the size of a small tabloid. Their faces are strained. Cal joins the two flashing a smile in Lin's direction. She rolls her eyes in obvious frustration. Matilda frowns, confused. - There is something odd about Cal. - Can't make it out. Weird. Matilda shakes her head, dismissing the thought.

"The Women's Oral History Centre,” Lin says abruptly, "Will that be close to the Ethnic communities' stalls? - At the Festival? Otherwise I'll have to sprint between the two locations." Matilda shrugs.

"How would I know? I haven't even told my Dad I'm accepting the job yet.” She feels vaguely annoyed. "Anyway it's more likely I'd be involved in advising about the Indigenous Garden. Not my area.” Matilda feels thirsty in the over-heated Beer Garden, and wishes that Lin would hurry with the drinks. “ - More likely I'd be setting up some sort of Bio-region information centre. - Too early to say. I mightn't even get the job."

Lin greets Cal, Mick and Mouse on her way to the Bar. Cal smiles widely toward Matilda. - Yes, thinks Matilda. - Definitely something strange about Cal. Cal looks away and Matilda again doubts her perceptions - Must be going Troppo, she tells herself. but I could have sworn - Been in the tropics too long. Guess I was more tired that first morning in Melbourne than I realized at the time.

Ahmet joins the Youth Refuge table carrying a stack of newspapers. - God! They're using the pub like an office, says Matilda to herself. Maybe the refuge has finally closed down?

The old pub's been given a face-lift. The Beer Garden is unrecognizable, the sagging, pergola that Matilda recalls transformed into a tropical-chic, glassed-in conservatory, with soaring cathedral roof. Ferns and Cooktown orchids cascade from hanging baskets. Matilda opens her journal, her precious River Book sketching rapidly. - Drawings and snatches of poems is all she's been doing lately. Matilda blocks in the date palm soaring above the hotel, fronds ragged against the evening sky. -That palm used to come alive with birds, Matilda recalls and jumps at the touch of Mick's hand on her shoulder.

"Matilda. Sorry I didn't come over. - We're trying to finalize a Local Industry forum.”

"Local industry?” Matilda is a little disconcerted. "I thought local industry was a bit too mainstream for you lot by now.” Matilda is aware that she hasn't quite controlled the edge to her voice. Mick sits down on the bench beside Matilda.

"True. Well the current spin certainly is. Selling casual employment as flexibility, short-term contracts as ‘reforms,” Mick's voice is toneless. “Sweat-shop wages.” He shrugs. Matilda remembers that Mick sounds most in control when he's upset. .

"So have you settled on your industry forum then?” Matilda asks, hoping that she sounds interested. She feels uncomfortable in the smoky atmosphere. The tropical plants remind her all too readily of those flash tourist hotels in Darwin, loaded with plants from Malaysia. - Nothing authentic about them whatsoever.

"Yes,” Mick is saying, "Last time we held the forum, they said we hadn't booked the hall.” He grins ruefully. "So we held it in the forecourt."

“You don’t mean you were deliberately excluded?”

"Probably.” Mick moves over a little as Lin returns with the drinks and sits on the other side of Matilda. The three are a bit squashed on the bench. Lin raises her glass to Matilda.

"Congratulations on your job decision and may all your river corridors burst with greenery.” Lin kisses Matilda a resounding kiss on the cheek.

Mick's eyebrows shoot upwards. "You're taking the job then? - Good luck, Matilda. It's a tall order” He takes Matilda’s hand in his. “Lots of politics!” Matilda withdraws her hand. She can’t tell whether Mick looks surprised over her job decision, or over Lin’s effusiveness.

"Yeah. Politics.” she answers defensively, draining the glass. "And you’re right; my experience is only in the environment 'sector' - Consensus politics. Soft options,” she continues, knowing that she is over-reacting in the cloying atmosphere.

"As one of the most experienced environmental activists I know,” Mick replies unruffled, "I think you've made the right decision.” He gives Matilda's shoulder a sympathetic squeeze. "It'll be tough, though. - These days they appoint Environment Ministers according to how many slices of National Parks they give to developers. - You'll be talking to the Green - Union coalition, I guess?”

Matilda nods miserably. - I can't do it, she says to herself. - Can’t take on the job. And I can't handle all this touching. - Lin on one side, Mick on the other and me the meat in the sandwich. Lin clasps Matilda's hand in hers.

"You're up to it, Matilda. This festival's gonna be a knock-out !"

Matilda jumps up hastily. The air is thick with the smell of smoke, beer and bodies. "Lin. I’m not interested in the Festival being a knock-out.” she announces pushing past Mick. "And oppositional politics - not my style either.” Matilda leans over, facing her two friends. "All I want is - restoration of this land.” Matilda pauses, hands flat on the table, knowing she sounds foolish. "Now. Anyone for another beer?"

Matilda orders the drinks. Repetitive techno music thumps from the Bar. Her throat is dry. She downs the beer and orders a rum and coke.

"Matilda Matilda!” Cal calls from the back table. “Don't leave without talking to me.”

She nods. The band seems to be thumping right behind Matilda's eyes. The Beer Garden wavers in the smoke-haze like the shifting mirages on Arnhem Highway in the Dry Season. Yes. - It's Cal's eyes, Matilda decides. Her eyes look totally different, unsettling. She veers away from the table where Cal, Ahmet and Mouse are folding leaflet and finds herself in the Gaming Room. - It's like fairy-land, thinks Matilda. - An adults' Fairy Land. She is surprised at the peacefulness of the place. - Here there is no sound, save the whirr and tinkle of the poker machines. Matilda has never seen a Gaming Room before. She feels drawn to the pretty, pastel machines, enchanted by the soft light, the glowing and blinking of the machines. She stares at a small, anxious man, rhythmically pushing the buttons.

"Watch it!” snarls the man, "What you starin' at? - Bloody wogs !” "You broke my concentration. - Ruined me system Yair.” The blue eyes are angry. “No. - You're a coon! Bloody coon.".

Matilda stands her ground. She's been called such names before. - Never takes it seriously though.

"It's the West-coast Irish, Matt.” her father used to say. "Connected to the ship-wrecks of the Spanish Armada. The dark, unusual, beautiful look of you. Of me too - though I’m too bushy about the eyebrows. - Or else of course," and then Rory's eyes would twinkle, his great brows lift, "It's the Sealy Woman heritage that's in us - The Black Irish, descendants of the shape-shifting Sealy Woman."

But this man is different. - He hates me, thinks Matilda - hates what he thinks I represent.

The man's face is contorted. “Why they lettin' coons in?” he asks nobody in particular.

"I'm reporting you to the manager right now.” Matilda says sharply. There is a pain behind her eyes. She needs air. She stumbles outside. The air is cool out in the lane. The familiar, date palm, fat and comforting against the sunset bursts into its evening chorus. Just in time, she swerves away from a girl sprawled against the trunk, pale-faced, bent over double.

"Fuck off!” The girl throws her jacket over the needle. Matilda blunders into the main Bar, but the waves of raw sound drive her back to the Beer Garden.

"Matilda!” Maggie enfolds Matilda in her arms. "Matt - God, I'm glad I caught you. - Bonny'll be here soon. - Matilda don't take any notice - of Bon, I mean - Matilda, the women's oral history meeting. Matilda, I'm dreadfully sorry, but there was no consensus. - You see . . ."

“They've knocked me back!” Matilda sits down abruptly. "Why Maggie? Why would anyone ... "

"Why indeed?" Bonny shoulders Maggie aside. Red-faced she looms over Matilda. "I did it, Matilda. I blocked consensus.” Bonny leans forward on her knuckles. "You’re outta touch, Matilda.” Bonny sways slightly. “You've been up North too long Matilda.”

“Bonny. Don't !” Maggie grasps Bon's shoulder.

Matilda scrapes the chair backwards as she stands. - Is it true? she asks herself. - Everything's changed. The women's movement as well. - Can't get a handle on how things fit. - Even my old friends are strange to me. Matilda flees back to Lin, who is deep in conversation with Cal. She tries to be unobtrusive but she has forgotten the drinks - left behind in the Gaming Room. - Best come straight out with it then.

"Lin.” Matilda tries to sound unconcerned. "I haven't been nominated for the women's Oral History committee.”

"Matilda. No!” Lin's arm encircles Matilda's shoulder. "How could they do this! To the originator of the whole project?"

“Well apparently I'm out of touch. "Been up North too long.” Matilda blinks away the tears. "Lin, everything's changed since I've been away. It really has. - Or else I really have lost it."

"Don't talk crap, Matilda,” says Lin as Mick reappears with fresh drinks; "things have changed, not you. It's all competition. Sisterhood got the flick in favour of 'Woman of the Year.” Lin smooths Matilda's arm with comforting fingers.

Mick puts the drinks down. "Damn bloody right, Lin.” Mick passes the glasses over to Lin and Cal. "But nothing's ever given. - It has to be won.” Mick slides onto the bench beside Matilda, pushing the remaining glass over to Matilda. "Stand alone and they annihilate you."

Mick frowns, alarmed at the look on Matilda's face. "Matilda, what's happened?” His arm goes over Matilda's shoulder just as Bonny, glass in hand confronts Matilda.

"Just bloody look at you, Matilda. - What sort of feminist are you?”

Maggie comes up hurriedly behind Bonny. "Bon. - Leave it for now. Matilda, I am absolutely certain,” she says, "In all the years I've known you that you are respected by radical feminists, socialist feminists, liberal feminists and every other kind of feminist; - that you are admired for your diplomacy, your flexibility, your ethics, right across the women's sector.” But Matilda is too distressed to listen properly. - Sector! she thinks - so now we've got a sector instead of a movement. Bon leans over the table, almost overturning Cal's glass.

"Flexibility!” she hoots. "Trouble with your kind of flexibility - Matilda,” she says hoarsely, “Is that with your boy friends - and your girl friends, you jump right across the whole blooming spectrum."

“Bon. Please!” Maggie pulls at Bon's arm.

Bonny's face flushes. "Right across and then some - yeah. One side of the bed to the other.” Bon looks puzzled for a moment. "One side -. Or, maybe I shouldn't 've said that - 'pologize. Right?” she mumbles. Then strangely compliant, “ - Okay Mag. I'm coming.” Maggie, mortified, hurries Bon away.

Cal gives Matilda that strange look from her disconcerting eyes. "Matilda, I'm sorry. Catch you some other time. "

She's embarrassed, thinks Matilda. - Doesn't want to know me. "Gotta go.” she says feeling sick in her stomach. She needs to cry, a good, long crying jag. Then she needs to think. But Lin's arms restrain her.

"Matilda. Don't give up.” she urges reaching for Matilda's hand. "Like Mick says, we gotta stick together."

"Matilda. Don't take it personally.” says Mick, taking Matilda’s free hand, trying and failing to be helpful. Matilda stands up. "Matt, don't go.” Mick pleads. But Matilda picks up her bag. "Matt, sorry.” Mick pulls at Matilda's sleeve. "Something I have to remind you. Matt, your Dad's tent and climbing gear. When can we borrow it? It's kinda urgent."

"Look. I said yes! It's in Mum's shed. - I'll ring you."

"Phone's cut off, remember. - I'll ring you. Tomorrow morning?”

Matilda shakes free from her friends. "Okay. Now leave me alone!” And she plunges out into the night air.

There is a long silence. Mick glances up from under his eyebrows. "Christ, Lin. What we gonna do?"

"Cards on the table.” says Lin evenly, meeting Mick's eyes directly. "Personal stuff. - Matilda stayed at your place night before last. Matilda stayed with me last night.” Lin does not lower her gaze. "I like Matilda a real lot Mick, but I can't get a fix on - I want to be fair. To Matilda, that is. But I just don't understand where she's coming from. - I mean ...” Lin looks a little embarrassed. "This is an odd admission to make. But, for what it’s worth, I didn't ... we didn't . . ."

Mick meets Lin's eyes. His face, like Lin's is expressionless. "We didn't either. - For what it's worth. Um, Matilda's a difficult person to categorize and - "

"So she's Bi then?"

Mick continues almost as if Lin hadn't spoken. His fingers are wrapped tightly around the glass. “A difficult person to categorize.” he says. "Matilda says you love who you love and she doesn't like what she calls 'dynamic duos.' There's a, well a - depth to Matilda. I don't know if she's actually aware of her - power. Don't know if that's the right word for it." Lin wonders if it is pain that she perceives in Mick's voice. He stumbles slightly over the words, though the hesitation could perhaps be attributed to embarrassment.

"Anyway,” he continues, "With regard to anything - physical,

Matilda . . .” He pauses, still holding Lin's gaze.

"Doesn't often.” Lin finishes Mick's sentence.

Mick nods and lowers his eyes. "So. - Are we in competition or are in we co-operation?” he asks.

- He's not joking, thinks Lin. She spreads her hands eloquently. "Let's call it creative tension."

Mick laughs and Lin breathes more easily. "Lin. Do you have any influence?” he says urgently. "This oral history means a hell’uva lot to Matt."

Lin rubs her chin doubtfully. Then a smile begins to dance in Lin's eyes. "By the living goddess.” she shouts. "Bon's on a housing committee with me. Never actually got to know her. - But, if I can keep my cool. Talk to a few people.” She thumps the glass down emphatically and their eyes meet again.

"Creative tension. Yes.” says Mick.

Chapter Eight


Matilda drags the bright woollen beanie tightly over her ears, glaring balefully at the frost-blue sky, the recalcitrant, winter sky, the sky that withholds the desperately needed winter rains. She feels out of place in this neat, outer suburb. Deliberately, in her trusty boots, she scuffs her way kicking up the turf of the neat, nature-strips. To Matilda, all these houses are variations on the outer suburban housing estate theme, , pretentiously titled 'Arcadia Heights', 'Blossom Downs', or 'University Mews' - the Valium belt, so detested by the denizens of the architecturally enlightened inner suburbs.

Jackie's house is easily discernible - herbs vying with weeds on the nature strip, cauliflowers overrun by broad beans and wandering jew entangled in a garden littered with children's toys - a broken tricycle, an armless doll, and a drunken, cubby-house.

Matilda struggles to open the child-proof gate. The morning has not started well and she has little time, if she is to manage, on a sequence of infrequent buses, to make it to her mother's afternoon class. Matilda has the draft Festival Banner designs in her back-pack. She hopes she hasn't put Jackie out in requesting an early lunch

"After all,” says Matilda spooning down Jackie's packet soup,” with a three year old and a new baby and a five year old at school, you must have to run a pretty tight ship, Jacks.”

“A tight ship! More like a leaky old tub.” hoots Jackie.

- Indeed, thinks Matilda, recalling the piss on the toilet seat.- Young Jarrod obviously hasn't yet learned to aim straight. - Can this be the cool, sophisticated Jackie Matilda had admired all those years ago? Jackie in a battered track-suit, safety pin be-decked, delighting pridefully in Jarrod's splodgy art works and in the even splodgier Jarrod, he of the soft, mobile mouth, the serious, grey eyes and the very sticky hands, bringing to Matilda a lapful of, sticky plastic trains and even stickier leggo pieces. Matilda tries to smile at Jackie's toddler stories.

"Oh, Matt. When you have kids - if you ever do . . .” Jackie pauses and Matilda is vaguely hurt. "Look - among my friends here, we kill ourselves laughing over turds in the bath, go berserk about tripping over toys. - Outer suburban hysteria is a viable sub-culture.” Jackie shifts the baby over to her other breast. She smiles. "You could do a whole thesis on it - ' How to Catch Projectile Vomit Before it Hits the Vicar'."

Matilda, feeling impelled to demonstrate some smidgin of competence, swoops little Milly up in her arms.

"Aah1 Too late Matt,” Jackie sympathizes, “- You should've put a nappy on your shoulder first.” The two begin to reminiscence.


"She's married. Three kids – Tasmania, so we don't see them.” says Jackie, sponging the sick off Matilda's shoulder. "Phone contact only. . - Your world narrows when you have kids, but broadens too - in other ways, yes. Well, deepens is probably a better word. The local Neighbourhood Centre keeps me sane."

Matilda cannot believe that this cheerful matron is the Jackie she once knew. - Clever Jackie, rustling up her brilliant street theatre performances. - The football decked out as a nuclear bomb that they had kicked along Bourke Street at the 1987 Peace rally. Jackie with Shirley Temple, curls, tap-dancing on Station Pier in front of the U.S. warships.

“On the goo - ood ship Goldsborough,” sang Jackie, "It's a sho - ort trip to a nuclear war."

Matilda recovers the train of the conversation. "Pardon? Oh, yes - Neighbourhood Centres. - My first contact with Neighbourhood Centres was at the Women's Precious Things for Peace rally.” The macaroni cheese is too bland for her taste. "Remember, Jack? - We based it on the Greenham Common women, who threaded woollen webs on the nuclear base fence and hung photos of their babies on the wire?"

Jackie smiles. "What a day! Concerts in the Melbourne Town Hall, performances in the City Square, the art exhibition in the cathedral, yeah, those were the days, ay? Some more?"

“No thanks"

Jackie gathers up the plates. "Yes - remember the women coming up to the microphone with peace quilts - photos of their kids? Your mother too, Matt. Remember when she came up to the mike with that photo of fat, little Baby Matilda and, oh yes, a black and white photo of her mother who died in the war."

"A photo!” Matilda drops her knife noisily. " - A photo of Karolina's MOTHER you say?”

“Yes. Her mother with some other people – a group.” Jackie replies. "Oh you were probably off somewhere trying to silence the rock group. - Remember how they mucked up the time-table?” Jackie shakes a packet of oatmeal biscuits on to a plate." - The City Square for god's sake.- Such a child unfriendly place.” She chops up a block of cheese, and arranges the slices on a plate of dry biscuits, "The kids could have so easily run out in to the traffic, ay?"

“Oh, yeah - I suppose so.” says Matilda, her mind on Karolina and the photo. - Why has Karolina not mentioned this photograph? Why has she not shown it to me?

There is a sudden commotion in the leggo corner. The handle of Jarrod's trike teeters on its leggo road and drops into thelaundry-basket.

Softly whimpering, Jarrod snuggles into his mother's arms. Jackie strokes the silky head and continues talking above Jarrod's muffled sobs. - I couldn't do that, thinks Matilda - comfort a child and keep on talking calmly; and the familiar void in the region of Matilda's solar plexus, opens again.

“Yes, Memory Lane.” Jackie smiles absently, "Do you remember the summer of '85 - the calm before the storm around International Year of Peace? - when we all went to that folk festival?"

“I spent half my life at folk festivals.”

"No. You must recall this one. - Gippsland? You were staying at the farmhouse. Dirk and I were living in the Peace Bus? - Surely you remember. The Boggy Creek Christmas Play? Group sex in the irrigation channel. C'mon, Matt! - That beautiful Italian boy - Peter, no Pedro. We called him Pedro the Fisher Boy."

Matilda blushes slightly. "No, not Italian - Swiss. And it was 1984.” she replies - Peter Cincotta, Swiss Italian. How could she not remember.?



A hot December it was that year. Matilda recalls the battalions of cicadas drumming in mirages of burning air as everyone swilled down mugs of hot, sweet tea, before trudging off to the cow-sheds, a straggly line of shadowy figures, swinging hurricane lanterns in the half-light, across the ploughed furrows, avoiding the cow pats. You had to keep yourself busy, or Uncle Marco would tweak your ears if you let a cow break away from the herd slowly ambling, like a fleet of homing cargo-boats, towards the milking shed, their bony backs ruddy in the sunrise.

Uncle Marco might hoist you up bodily, shouting, "What your problem - you sleepy kid! Cattiva, cattiva. You wake up - presto!"

In the cow-shed, you had to hustle the next cow into the cow-bails before Uncle Marco had finished sterilizing the teat attachments. Milking over, you drove the cows back to the paddocks in the scarlet sunrise, or in knee-high rubber boots, you hosed down the mucky cow-yards. Two to a bucket, you hauled the steel milk bucket, or the small but heavier cream bucket back to the house for breakfast with Auntie Rosa. Uncle Marco and Auntie Rosa weren't Matilda's real Auntie and Uncle, but friends of her Grandfather Milos, Karolina's father, who had died before Matilda was born. Uncle Marco had worked with Grandfather Milos on the Snowy River Hydro-electric scheme.

"The biggest hydro-electric scheme in the world.” said Uncle Marco, "Where a river was turned backwards, cara - By the skill of Marco, the skill and hard work of your Grandfather Milos - the skill of the men from war-torn Europe, the 'Balts' like your grandfather, the 'Dagos' like me; but all of us they called 'Reffos'! - Men from 'every country under the sun'. We made this country rich.” Uncle Marco would explain, “Taught the Aussies how to cook and sing,"

A Swedish company had built a village in the Snowy Mountains for the workers just below the snow-line - brought the timber out from Sweden. - drowned a whole township - Adaminaby it was called - to make way for a huge reservoir. Today, who knows, Murray Cod might flick their fins exploring the sunken post office, eels slippery and silver, slither through flooded school-rooms, or the odd platypus fossick in the deep mud of the drowned, Adaminaby football ground?

Years later Matilda read an article in 'The Age' by Judith Brett that mentioned Adaminaby. She recalls Brett assering that capitalism comes at a heavy cost to community and locatednes in 'place' - that arguments for accepting capitalism’s 'creative destruction' were paradoxical, coming from the lips of conservatives, normally known for their cautious stand against any sort of change. Matilda knew that no buildings remained at the old Adaminaby site, down there in Lake Eucumbene, none whatsoever. They had all been re-located on low loaders to New Adaminaby.

The article had fallen from between the pages of one of Karolina's letters, re-directed to Matilda in Darwin, just after her Park Ranger contract at Lord Howe Island had run out. Matilda, new to Darwin, still missed the cool, forests, the teeming sub- tropical reefs, the massive grey bulk, like giant, square molars, of the Lord Howe Island mountains, the fearsome escarpments of the off-shore islands and the perilous, dagger-points of Ball's Pyramid. Matilda - snorkelling the reefs off Lord Howe Island looking up to Ball's Pyramid from where the monolith seemed to pierce the fabric of those sapphire-silk seas, could easily envisage the cluster of islands as part of ancient Gondwana Land in the times when all the lands were one, giant continent, before the continental drift broke up that once-great land mass.

Judith Brett insisted that the price of capitalism’s productive success was destruction of connectedness to community, and the natural world. - entire community programs were lost through insistence on balanced budgets at all costs. Brett believed that, through the arrogant restructuring of local government, with three years under non-elected, Commissioners had destroyed local good will, knowledge and resources . ‘Thus. cynicism and collapsed morale had replaced hope.’

Matilda, uncertain at that time of her own future in flamboyant, steamy Darwin could not but agree with Judith Brett - Places where you were taken as children, places where you can mark your position in generational time are lost - 'returned to nothing.' As if, Matilda reflected, Grandfather Milos is lost in that watery other-world of Adaminaby. Matilda, her memory jogged by Jackie's musings, recalls how Judith Brett had quoted Canberra historian Peter Read on 'the grief people suffer when their homes and townships are destroyed.’ She feels a great and urgent longing to know the stories of her mother.

In 'Returning to Nothing'; The Meaning of Lost Places.', Read had interviewed people from the lost town of Yallourn, dismantled for the sake of an open-cut mine and the people of Darwin's Cyclone Tracey; she recalls the tsunami torn pacific peoples, the hurricane-blasted citizens of the Mississippi delta - and, yes, the one-time residents of the drowned township of Adaminaby.

"Years afterwards,' said Judith Brett, 'the people still felt a continuing grief for their lost, dead places.'

- But, what if that grief, says Matilda to herself, is passed on to the children, children who never even saw or knew anything about those Lost Places? What then?

Brett had concluded that the 'manic masculine energy’ of the 1997 Victorian Premier had caused a massive 'Place Bereavement' with schools summarily closed, parks requisitioned and wild places 'developed' for tourist gratification.'

And so it was that Uncle Marco's stories of the workers of the Snowy River first set Matilda on the path of the wanderer in her own land, far from flooded Adaminaby, far from the Yarra of her own childhood, the Gippsland irrigation channel and the cow shed concert, when (briefly), bereavement had turned to anger. Later, Matilda would come to understand, that the wanderer, seeking desperately for home and identity, eventually becomes the warrior. - Uncle Marco and Auntie Rosa, the nearest thing to real relations, reflects adult Matilda .

Imagine the joy of little Matilda, when Uncle Marco gave her Grandfather Milos's mother of pearl panelled harmonica and Grandfather Milos's button accordion with the green, leather thumb-straps the rich, cream parchment of the bellows edged with a tracery of gilt-embossed, green leather. Most beautiful of all, were the concertina's hexagonal end-panels of intricately carved rose-wood, inlaid with mother-of-pearl. By the end of those school holidays, seven year old Matilda had learned to play both instruments with style. After all her own father, Rory was a real folk singer. Rory began to take Matilda to Folk Festivals on the week-ends. Karolina worried about Matilda's safety on these trips, even though Karolina herself, refusing to accompany them, protested that she had no intention of spending her weekends sitting on the grass, since being an actual Grass Widow to a hippie husband was enough to tolerate.

The following year, eight year old Matilda constructed a large, plaster of paris, contour-map, model of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric scheme. Her mother was not pleased, because she made a mess on the back veranda and the plaster had blocked up the laundry sink. Of course it was Rory's fault for insisting that Matilda go to a Community school, where creative expression was encouraged. Matilda used ball-point pen barrels for the water-tunnels through the mountains, aluminium foil for the dams and pleated, lunch-wrap plastic for the silver water tumbling over the spill-ways . Matilda's teacher said that Matilda's Snowy Mountains model was very advanced for one so young.

That winter Matilda pestered Uncle Macro until he allowed Matilda and his grand-daughter, Maria to go to the snow-fields with the neighbouring children. Thick-set Ginger Mc.Dermott's coarse hair grew low on his freckled forehead like a snow-skier's balaclava and Franny's little, pointed face was fringed with a ragged, pudding-basin hair cut of dusty, pale-gold hair. All of the McDermotts reminded Matilda of Uncle Marco's red kelpies, those clever, cattle dogs, who nipped the heels of recalcitrant cows at milking time, agile and tense like all cattle dogs - eager to get in close, ready and waiting to bail you up.

The seven of them were squashed into Mr. Mc.Dermott's battered station-wagon - Uncle Marco having decided to come at the last minute, so as to re-acquaint himself with his first workplace in Australia. They took the direct, but devilish road through the mountains to Omeo across the ridges, where the road was little more than two deep-scored tyre-grooves and the chassis bounced and jarred on the wet, tussock-grass growing in between the grooves.

Mr. McDermot drove slowly on the hair-pin bends snaking over the razor-back on through Dead Horse Gap, Nimmitabel and Jindabyne, the wheels crunching on gravel, teetering on the edge of dizzying drops, as they swung perilously around corners. Matilda had never been in the High Country before, never before seen rock walls wearing velvet-green shoulder pads of thick and soggy, spaghnum moss, leaking milky, snow-water in shining runnels from every cleft and crack, like bountiful nursing mothers, had never seen tree-ferns dripping with dew, and swathed in veils of sun-spangled mist.

It was on that road up Crackenback, that Matilda first met, first felt the milky-mother mountains in her heart. Those mountains reminded Matilda of her Dad's Irish stories of Green Mounds opening up on to Other Worlds, where the air is thin and you might stumble all unknowing into the Lands of the Faerie People.

Pink heath, called coral heath spiked up through snow, glittering on the roadside edges like icing on a white, frosty cake, a cake scrolled with curves and drifts of pink heath bells. That very weekend, Matilda won a Pink Heath badge for 'Best Beginner Skier - Under Twelve.'

“Matilda is so swift on the skis, Marco. - Like a bird she flies." effused Auntie Rosa.

"Magnifico. - Just like her Grandpapa.” agreed Uncle Marco. “A real champion. The migrants to the Snowy. They pioneered the skiing industry in the Australian Alps. "

- So, thought Matilda, - my Grandfather Milos was a champion skier - Perhaps I have inherited champion ski-ing along with concertina playing and harmonica playing? Later, back at home in Melbourne, she had said,

"You didn't tell me Mum that your father was a champion ski-ier."

"Oh Matilda. It's not important.” Karolina had answered.

"It was round about that time, I think,” Matilda tells Jackie, "that I made up my mind never to work indoors.”

Matilda is looking through Jackie's family photograph album. - Actually, Jackie is a little disconcerted that Matilda is taking such interest in her sepia prints of ancestors - men in Sunday suits, watch chains on waist-coats, seated awkwardly on carved chairs, their brides, standing beside them, lace-veiled, corseted and be-ribboned.

"Yes. This one here is the original matriarch and patriarch. Cornish tin miners on my Dad's side, - Hey - what's up, Matt?", asks Jackie, seeing Matilda's troubled eyes.

"Oh, nothing,really.” Matilda replies, while in her mind she says - Little bits. - That's all I know. Fragments, instead of a heritage - a consistent family story. Matilda sighs and forces herself to concentrate on Jackie's memories of that summer in Gippsland.

Whenever Matilda thinks of those days the main thing that she recalls is the smell of mud. - Funny about that. Mud. It's with me now, muses Matilda. Whenever I recall that Gippsland summer at Uncle Marco's. - The mud of the cow-shed, I suppose - mud mixed with cow-pats, sloshing through the gluey mud at dawn, lugging the milk buckets back to the house. - Bruno and Uncle Marco downing gallons of steaming tea, yes, tea - because breakfast, alone of all Auntie Rosa's meals was fully Australianized. Tea with four sugars for Uncle Marco, two sugars for Bruno, toast - cooked on top of the wood-stove, dripping with home made butter and blackberry jam, Anzac biscuits, sausages, fried egg and bacon and grilled tomatoes. Mountains of cornflakes - piled up in blue pudding bowls like miniature Kosciuszkos, sugar-frosted at their peaks and drowned in full cream, milk, straight from Uncle Marco's Jerseys and Aberdeen Anguses.

One muggy summer evening, Mr. McDermott had swung into the drive with the kids a mob of excited kelpies and two children new to the district all piled on the tray of his red, Bedford truck. The two new children, Peter and Margaritta were the last off, scrambling down awkwardly after the kelpies - perhaps because they were shy, perhaps because they spoke little English.

"Now clear orf, you kids. Down to the irrigation channel.", said Mr. McDermott striding on to the veranda, a fruit box of Fosters clinking on his shoulder. Mariella, Bruno and Matilda snatched up bathers and towels before Auntie Rosa had time to say no.

The irrigation channel was running full after a season of summer downpours, the bank trodden to a paste by thirsty cows. Matilda found a tortoise and signalled for silence. The children gathered round Matilda and watched the tortoise negotiate its way through the mud towards a branch leaning out over the current

Suddenly Ginger McDermott charged from behind and they all sploshed into the water in a tangle of arms and legs. It was near impossible to gain a foothold in the sucking clutches of the mud

- Yes, thinks Matilda - You just managed to stagger upright, when down you went again, grabbed by the ankles, clasped in Ginger McDermott's fleshy fingers, all of them intertwined in a muddy embrace, slipping and sliding between various legs and elbows, discovering bits and bobs and hidden treasures, coming up laughing, gasping for air, then belly-flopping down again, so that who was who and what was what was lost in that thigh-high caress of mud. Matilda’s muddy hair flopped out every which-way as she dived and surfaced with the best of them.

Every year, since she was nine, Matilda had produced and directed what came to be known as the 'Boggy Creek Christmas Play', with a large cast of assorted, local children. "- It was fun when I was nine, Matilda tells Jackie, "but by the time you and Dirk came up in your yellow bus painted all over with peace designs, I was actually getting bored and I really wanted to toss it in and get involved with you and Dirk and the Gippsland Peace Festival people."

- No, if truth be told, says Matilda to herself, - I'd probably lost the confidence I'd had when I was younger, yes. - It was that horrible, bleak year when Mum and Dad were on the verge of splitting up. Anyway I agreed to go ahead with the Christmas play, but I insisted that this time Uncle Marco let me use the cow-shed for the performance.

"I had the biggest cast ever that year,” Matilda tells Jackie, "and I lobbied the McDermotts heavily, because I wanted to cast baby sister, Raelene as Baby Jesus - We rehearsed with a doll, just in case."

Matilda recalls that week of hectic practices just before the Cincottas arrived in the district, having bought a small, run-down dairy farm out Bundalaguah way. Mr. Cincotta and Peter and Peter's older sister, Margaritta had found some itinerant work as tomato-pickers.

Peter and Margaritta were very beautiful to Matilda - tall, fair and apple-cheeked, with horizon-blue eyes and honey-blonde hair. Matilda had recently devoured the 'Heidi' books and, to her, Margaritta and Peter were replicas of those wonderful, Swiss goat-herd children who feasted, on milk, cheese and black bread in the high alpen pastures and who wore dirndls and lederhosen.

The fact was Matilda recalls, that Mr. Cincotta was a Swiss-Italian film-writer in Australia to do some research for an international dairy industry on the effects that the European Common Market might have on the dairy exports of Australia and New Zealand. Mr. and Mrs. Cincotta spoke good English, but not so their son or daughter.

Statuesque Margaritta made an utterly elegant Christmas angel in a splendid, sparkling and fashionable, somewhat clinging costume run up in the wee, small hours by proud Mrs. Cincotta. In a clear and piping treble that sounded to Matilda as if it came straight from the Matterhorn, Margaritta sang the Gloria in Excelsis Deo.

Peter, cast, - Matilda had thought appropriately, as a shepherd was more problematical. His one line of dialogue –

'But what about the sheep?' he persisted in rendering as, "But wotta boutta ze ship?"

Matilda remembers how she had coaxed, cajoled and modelled the correct pronunciation - but to no avail.

"Stay here Peter, after the rehearsal is finished.” said Matilda and we'll practice by ourselves. - Here” Matilda sat Peter down on an up-ended bucket in the churning shed.

“Say 'sheep' ", said Matilda.

"Ship.", said Peter.

"No -sheep.".

"Ship.” said Peter again, looking puzzled.

It was no use. "Look, say it as if you're smiling. See - 'sheeep” Matilda leaned over and pressed upwards the corners of Peter's pink mouth with her long thumbs, exposing his alpine-white teeth in an unwilling smile. "Sheeeep - see.” Again Matilda's tanned fingers pulled at the corners of Peter's rosy lips.

All at once Peter's pink mouth was on hers, as he scrambled to his feet, kicked away the steel bucket with a loud clatter and cupped Matilda's head in his big, shaking hands. For a moment Matilda felt herself to be Heidi - shepherd girl Heidi, up on the high, green alps with Peter, amid tinkling goat-bells.

Then suddenly Margaritta, avenging angel Margaritta, approaching from behind, angel-halo all askew was furiously shaking both of them and shouting, "Cattiva! Cattivo. - Bad boy! Bad girl!", she yelled, her halo wobbling in time with the attack. But then unaccountably, Margaritta's shaking turned to hugs and soon all three were hugging and stroking and kissing and laughing round the butter-churn,

"Ze ship. Wotta aboutta ze ship?"

And of course the concert was the usual success, until the strains of 'Silent Night died away, 'Silent Night’ accompanied by Matilda as Mary, on grandfather Milos's concertina, hidden in the folds of the blue robes. The entire cast and audience fell to softly humming the old carol. It was then that Matilda brought about utter consternation, as she suddenly leaped up, and flicked off the blue veil, inexpertly balancing on her hip the last-minute, unwillingly co-opted, Baby Jesus/Raelene. In her tee shirt and mini-skirt, Matilda walked, slowly and purposefully down the aisle between the gum leaf decorated cow-bails, chanting as she strode out into the night,

"The Last Act. - It is the Twentieth Century. - The Nuclear Age. - The Nuclear Family has split up into - atoms. And the Virgin Mary is a Single Mum."



Jarrod stirs on Jackie's lap as Matilda rises, hastily stacking the dishes. She smiles in triumph, though her cheeks are flushed.

Jackie doesn't return Matilda's smile.

"Did you lose faith then?” she asks and her voice is very quiet. “The year your Mum and Dad split up?"

Chapter Nine


Karolina tosses in bed. In the grip of the dream she drags the doona up over her head. She is in a house - single-fronted. The whole front is glass. Frightened by distant rumbling, she hurries to the basement. All is dusty - untouched for years. The rumbling intensifies. Must get away - away from that noise.

A heavy weight is pressing on her legs. Karolina sits bolt upright. She flings the doona off. Bonegilla, yelping in fright is sent flying onto the floor.

"Oh. Shit!” Karolina staggers into the bathroom. Shakily she twists open a pill bottle, swallows the tablet and leans panting against the basin. A puzzled Bonegilla whimpers around her ankles. Karolina gives him a hefty shove.

"Bonegilla. Get off!”

A distressed Bonegilla skids on the tiles. Something crashes to the floor. - That smell!

- Violets! She always wore ...

Karolina stands transfixed not noticing the red gash on her foot, the blood mixed with glass, the liquid on the tiles. She dabs on antiseptic and stumbles back to bed.

''Two a.m. - Christ! - Sorry Bonegilla. Sorry doggie!” Bonegilla will not be mollified. Deeply hurt, he curls up in a tight little ball on the rug.

Next morning Karolina inspects the damage. She sweeps up the broken glass. She smiles grimly. - Only a bottle of violet-scented disinfectant knocked over by frightened Bonegilla. Dismissing the dream, Karolina downs black coffee. She snatches up her brief-case.

- First class with her refugee students. For the umpteenth time, Karolina hopes that the students will participate in her thesis project. - Must be why I had that bad dream. Nervous I suppose. She revs the car and backs out rapidly, not noticing the cracks in her nature strip, cracks that the drought has opened up.

Karolina introduces the new project with a video. A list of questions is on the white-board. - 'Our Refugee Experience in Australia.' The students are engrossed. There is a buzz of conversation. Karolina moves from group to group,

For - Back-ground information.” asks Dzaved. "What - forced us to leave the homeland? Could we do this?" The students take notice of Dzaved. Like most refugee students Dzaved is a professional. - An architect-engineer. - Worked in the theatre, apparently.

Karolina smiles, "Yes, you could Dzaved. - But only briefly, because my thesis topic is about refugee experiences here - in Australia. "Of course you can say anything you like, but,” Karolina pauses.

"But you would edit our words?"

"Well. Yes. Karolina flounders a little before the direct gaze of Dzaved. “ - but I would publish the whole of your transcript -”


"Pardon? Oh. Sorry Mariella. A transcript is a copy of all the words with nothing cut out. I will publish a class Booklet of all your words”

"But not all of our words will go in your thesis?"

"That's right Dzaved. - Otherwise it would be too long and -"

"And it might not fit in with your - theory?” asks Dzaved.

Karolina laughs, "Oh yes. I see what you're getting at, Dzaved "No, that won't be a problem. You see this is 'Action Research.', We will all discuss together and act too on what we find out."

Dzaved persists. "Your - findings. We will see these beforehand?"

"Certainly. Dzaved, this is Action Research. We write the story, we think about what the story means … we act to make changes. We are all acting in this research."

- Got it! says Karolina to herself as Dzaved relaxes. - I'm getting through that I'm genuine about this.

Karolina sorts out her last-minute photocopies. Her mind wanders back to that morning at the photocopier, when she'd first met the new Head of Department. - glad Rosie had warned her about the guy, though.



"Karolina! God I'm in such a rush.” Rosie had said bustling in with the two little girls. "Have to drop the girls off at the Creche. - Class starts in five minutes and - Mind if I jump the queue again?"

Karolina moved aside as Rosie and the girls got started. “ - My word. You've got the girls well trained!” Karolina had said as little Leela carried the collated pages over to big sister Neelima for stapling.

"No. No Not like that, Neeli! - The top left hand corner, I said."

Rosie looked a little embarrassed, "Well, they have to be, ever since Rajiv got besotted by the Guru and took off to that unspeakable ashram - they just have to pull their weight. - Just my luck,” Rosie muttered. “One minute I've got a husband who comes out here from India at age ten - plays Aussie Rules Football, eats meat pies - perfectly normal accountant. Mid-life crisis and he's into re-discovering his roots. Then, blow me down he catches a serious dose of Guru-mania."

Karolina laughed, "My husband got obsessed with bumming round at folk festivals at mid-life. Took our daughter trailing along with him every weekend"

"Jeez, Karolina. I'd put my foot down over that.”

"I certainly did.” Karolina replies. - Yes thinks Karolina. And the result? - Matilda leaving home almost as soon as I left Rory.

“Karolina,” Rosie warned, “watch out with the new Head of Department."

" Meaning what."

Rosie smiled. "Well I can see that the stuff you're photocopying is from the student newspaper."

“Not so.” Karolina returned. "It's for the student newspaper - the next issue, in fact. - Saves the students paying for - "

"Well, just watch out, that's all. This guy's on an individual contract. - Rumour is he gets a bonus for every new Course he scores for the College - Ambitious.”

"Oh, Rosie!"

"No, Fair dinkum. New breed this guy is. - from the Public Transport bureaucracy. His job was to carve it up into private companies. - Should be just the man to head up Migrant Education,ay?” Rosie stacks the photocopies.

"Must fly! Thanks Karolina. Whoops! That's him. - Oh. And don't talk Union."

"Karolina? A word?”

Karolina shoved the papers into her case. "Graham, is it?"

"Grantling. Grae Grantling."

For a small man he had a surprisingly firm handshake, Karolina recalls. Though his hands were hot - very dry, almost like paper. Karolina busied herself with a paper jam. "Glad to meet you, Graham.”

"No. - Grae, as in the colour.” says Grantling crisply. "Now, Karolina. Your thesis. You've applied for study leave?”

"Yes, er Gray,” I thought - "

"Well this is rather unorthodox.” Grantling waved one hand, or rather the hand seemed to float as if beyond the control of the owner.

- Altogether he's a wraith-like figure of a man, Karolina decides. She hands out the photocopies to the students. - Yes, wraith-like. But not graceful. No Floaty - like seaweed. And grey! Dusty,grey hair. Grey suit grey tie. Grey voice - sort of .desiccated. A tad older than most of these mover and shaker types the College appoints whenever they amalgamate departments.

"I encourage my staff to advance their careers.” Grantling had said. But in the current climate you'd have to put up a good case. - Migrant Education's not a major priority -”

"Oh but you see Grey,” Karolina had responded, "these are refugees! - Federal Government's about to bring out a new policy shortly. On permanent visas, er – more or less"

"Yes yes. Well, Karolina, I'd have to see the evidence -"

Hah! recalls Karolina. - I can handle this turkey.

"The Assistant Minister for Multicultural Affairs.” Karolina had murmured. "He's the local Member.”

Grantling had smiled then, a wintry smile that left his eyes untouched "Ah, Yes. Karolina. You have in mind a ministerial book-launch?"

"With multicultural luncheon.” Karolina had replied instantly.



"Karolina, Dzaved and me, we've been wondering,” Khalifa breaks in to Karolina's reverie. "Will our names be in - in your thesis?"

"Um -yes. Not on the Title Page. You will be - credited, but you see I have to bear the responsibility - for any theory, that is for any– beliefs."

Dzaved smiles, "Yes, we understand very good - no, very well.” Dzaved corrects himself. "Yes we know what is theory. - It is what puts people in jail."

The students laugh. Karolina tries to return Dzaved's smile. - Are they having me on? she wonders.

Matilda slips into the classroom. Karolina hears that Rory's given her a casual job for the time being.

"My daughter, Matilda .” says Karolina. “Matilda is here to show you some designs - some pictures of banners that will decorate the city for the Festival. I thought you might be interested in making a banner. A banner is like a flag” Karolina says hastily. Matilda will explain after we have finished our talk about the Action Research."

- Rats, thinks Matilda, - I've arrived too early,

My god - Action Research! thinks Karolina recalling Grae Grantling's final pronouncement that morning - Am I ever buying into trouble!

"Karolina, one final issue.” Grae Grantling had said. "This er, Action Research. - Participants research then act on their research? Is that correct?"

"More or less.” replied Karolina. “I - "

Grantling's face changed. It was only then that Karolina noticed the eyes. The eyes make up for the non-descript body. They glitter, ice-cold.

"There will be no action on this campus.” he snapped."

"Of course.” Karolina had answered swiftly. "No action on this campus”

"And no action anywhere pertinent to this College."

“ - But the students are adults.” replied Karolina. I can't be responsible -”

"You can and you will.” Grantling smiled again, though this time the smile was a little less wintry. "Glad to see we understand each other, Karolina. - Just fill in the relevant study-leave forms and I'll see what I can do,” and Grantling was on his way out the door, murmuring, "The Minister. - Nice sort of chap, I'm told. Get moving on the Book-launch. These fellows are busy men"

Nguyet has a question. "This idea of to tell the story. - It is a good thing.” She hesitates. "This will maybe stop the discrimination."

"Very true, Nguyet.” Karolina nods encouragingly.

Nguyet lowers her gaze. "You are the teacher. You have this good idea.” Ngyuet rushes on. "I would like not to do this thing."

"Nguyet, that's fine. It's not a problem.” Karolina hands Ngyuet the last photocopy. "- Sometimes we like not to tell, because -"

"Because the pain would be too great.” Dzaved cuts in. "Karolina, you migrated here very young, perhaps,” he asks -though the way he phrases the words, it is more like a statement. "Perhaps you have forgotten?” A silence falls over the class.

"You see we are interested in your story too.” Dzaved continues.

Matilda looks the other way, - My thinking too, Mother. Now wriggle out of that one if you can.

"Well. Yes, but surely fifty years ago -” Karolina stops at a loss, seeing the looks of anticipation on the students' faces. "I was only a child.”

"A child refugee?” asks Dzaved smiling, but his eyes are serious. “ - About the same age as my grand-daughter?” The serious eyes do not waver until Karolina looks away, caught in wisps and fragments of last night's dream. She recalls the cracks in her nature-strip, opened by the drought. Strangely, the cracks appear sinister, as if buried dreams, or nightmares might surface from them.

"Oh - Something I meant to give you.” She manages a smile. "The photocopies for your next Newsletter."

Zeinhab takes the copies. "Thank-you, Karolina, but we have a new problem now.”

"Why? Is it the thesis?

"No. Well, perhaps the Action Research is the way.” says Zeinhab slowly. “A discrimination.” Zeinhab hands Karolina the leaflet.

"Oh no. - They think this is funny.” Karolina studies the cartoon.

"Yes. And I can see the funny side of it.” says Zeinhab. “ But my son has been going from the school - he is bashed.” Zeinhab’s face is sad and angry. "They will say we have no sense of humour if we complain."

"Zeinhab, who put this leaflet out?"

Matilda's curiosity overcomes her. She joins the knot of students at Zeinhab's desk. - The leaflet advertises a College Barbecue. The graphics depict a group of drooling picnickers around a cooking-pot. with a fire lit under the pot. The picnickers are Blacks. They have bones in their noses. In the cooking-pot is a white gentleman in a solar topee and safari suit. 1.

Dzaved studies the cartoon with an artist's eye. "It would not be difficult to draw an answer. - For the College Magazine and on all the Notice Boards, hey?"

"Ah, yes. Karolina this will be our first action for the Action Research.” Zeinhab smiles.

"No. No. Zeinhab, I'm sorry.” Karolina's hand flies to her mouth. "Oh dear.” - Oh-oh, thinks Matilda, - don’t say I didn’t warn you Mother! "But, Karolina. You said this is what we should do. - This is the research and this is action." There is distress in Zeinhab's eyes.

"You have guidelines? Things you must agree.” Dzaved nods seeing Karolina's expression. "or perhaps you do not pass the thesis? We have much experience of these things. - For Australia it is a bit new – recent?"

Karolina sits down. For a moment she does not answer. “You are right. I have promised no action on campus. And - ” Karolina takes a deep breath, “also no action about this College - anywhere. But you are right, of course. - Something must be done–” Karolina gestures open-handed. - It's probably illegal."

Dzaved smiles. "Then we will form a strategy committee! We will work out how we can step sideways? No? – side-step these problems. This silencing is not so new to us."

Karolina's brows furrow a moment. "Well, that's a start then. - Matilda. You've come to tell us about the Community Banners?"

Matilda walks slowly to the desk. - Reminds me of International Year of Peace, 1986 . - The times I used to talk at Karolina's Community Arts Centre. I was only a child, but Rory encouraged me. I’d talk about peace - uranium mining, for heavens sakes! Then later on - when Mum started teaching - used to visit Mum's classes up till I was fourteen or so. Matilda stands awkwardly at the desk. - Before I lost - what? Courage? - I really don't know. Only know I've gotta do this stuff. Still gotta do it.

Matilda begins, feeling that her style is far less engaging than her mother's. "Well, “Karolina's already explained - The Banners will decorate the City. This district too. All community groups can design a Banner.” Matilda pulls a package out of her back-pack. "These are some samples” - God, thinks Matilda to herself - I wish I didn't sound so – casual. The Banner can be quite simple if you haven't much time - or skill guess” She fumbles with the designs. "Oh and there is a standard size. - Otherwise it's up to you. Oh no, I forgot - There are banner-making workshops at the Town Hall.” Matilda fishes out the leaflet. “On the day of the Festival the Banners will be carried down a Banner Avenue - the banners are to represent the diversity of contemporary Australia, whatever is - important to you."

"So this is your job, Matilda. To promote these Community Banners?” asks Dzaved.

"No. Well, yes; but actually I'm a Park Ranger.” Matilda pauses - Is that what I AM though? she asks herself. "I work at -.” There is a silence. She collects her thoughts. "I - work at ... restoration - of land, that is.” She finishes in a voice so low that it is difficult for her to be heard.

"Restoration.” Dzaved is interested.” We all need that - restoration.” He looks inquiringly at Matilda. "What kind of a banner would be important to you Matilda? - Your ethnic back-ground? Would that be in your design? Your beliefs? Your career?”

The students' eyes are on Matilda. - Lighten up! she tells herself. -They're only mildly interested, that's all. Get it over with.

"Well - all of those things.” she replies. "Um, I like to draw. I'd probably go for a design covering women's rights - the environment - this land, I mean, here, the Yarra Valley. That's important to me. - A Celtic harp. - My Dad's Irish. And .."

"And for your mother?” Marisol leans forward.

Matilda is embarrassed. "I, I don't really know. I mean I haven't really-” Matilda takes back the Banner designs. Hastily she stuffs them into her back-pack. “Actually - it's I think, um, Croatia.” Karolina shakes her head. "Sorry. - Former Yugoslavia anyway. I - I'm getting mixed up.” Matilda casts an agonized look at Karolina. "I think things were - different when my mother came here after World War Two.” Matilda zips up the back-pack. "Must go, But, thank-you all for your time.".

At the door, Matilda turns briefly. "Actually, I'll be really interested in the family story side of ... your Action Research.” she says with a tight smile. "Really really interested.” She looks beseechingly at Karolina and closes the door.

The students look puzzled. Karolina regains her composure. "For the next class, you could perhaps bring some ideas for your research. Also those who'd like to be part of the Banner project could think up some designs. - I'll bring tape recorders if you’d prefer to speak rather than write.” Karolina smiles encouragingly. "What do you think?” The students nod agreement.

Dzaved bounds to the door - He has to pick up his grand-daughter at creche.

“ - And the children?” he says.

"Pardon?” says Karolina.

"The children of the wars.” replies Dzaved. "We know of these things.” It seems to Karolina that his tone is re-assuring - comforting almost. - Karolina draws in her breath sharply, for then comes the challenge.

"Karolina, you were a child refugee.” Dzaved stops, his hand on the door. He looks directly at her. "You are part of this Action Research. - You also will tell your story?"

-Yes.Yes! The students are smiling.

- Dzaved, you bastard. Karolina can't control the initial look of fury she directs at Dzaved. She nods.

“Okay. - Only where it's relevant, though.” Karolina packs up her belongings.

God. - Matilda! She's coming round for dinner - It's been a long day, she says to herself. - And this is only the beginning

.1. This incident may seem unlikely, but it is true and occurred very recently.

Chapter Ten


Matilda rounds the corner on a borrowed bicycle. Yaaay! -. Why do I always feel I’m coming home when I get to Corey’s? She hops off the bike, recalling how the house seemed to merge into clouds and skies - the colour of a Queensland Blue pumpkin, Corey had said. –Takes me back to the first time I left home. Fourteen - metaphorical red hanky on a stick, at Corey’s door, Mick studiously in the background. “Corey, Corey. My mum’s thrown my dad out over Albertine – the Arts Administrator – my mum’s boss.” Matilda recalls her tearful, fourteen-year old self plied with tea and scones, at Corey’s table,. She automatically checks the letter-box and wends her way down the path, still edged with lavender and cinerarias, furry and silver-leaved.

That’s how I became one of Corey’s kids. How I got the confidence to go back to Mum. Next, Liam comes down from Darwin to help out. – Mum thinks Liam bought Rory that river-side apartment. Well how could Dad afford -? Folk singing he was then.

Anyway Karolina approved – thought her new swimming pool would keep me away from rowing.– Karolina’s paranoid phase! Little did she know. – Then she returns to study – starts teaching. Those night classes! Packs me off to Corey’s on her teaching nights. Matilda leans the bicycle against the veranda. – Suited me fine. But not Karolina. No way. Such a good organizer, my mum. Always making plans. But I managed. – Better than they’ll ever know. Could be that Corey had some - inkling ... Matilda looks up at the house and stops in her tracks. - It's painted! A bright, outrageous yellow. Matilda’s been arriving in the dark up till now. The doors and lintels are Greek island blue. The veranda-posts are Indian-red, edged with the blue and yellow. Matilda pauses, her hand on the door handle. At least the front veranda hasn't changed. The old, sewing machine still here where Corey likes to sew. - Probably sewing-room space lost out to some kid needing a bed. - The notice-board's still here, bearing kids' drawings, Youth Refuge notices and a Twenty-Twenty leaflet. - Pretty radical lot, the Twenty-Twenty, if you're to believe the reports.


Matilda is enfolded in Corey's arms, in the warmth of Corey's furry, jumper. - At least the house hasn't changed much inside, thinks Matilda. - Although those ornate, gold, scrolly designs Corey had painted on the kitchen chairs now adorn even the stair treads. Corey opens a biscuit tin. - Corey's Melting Moments! Matilda sits down on the kitchen chair with its gold-painted knobs and scrolls of flowers.

"So how was Darwin?” asks Corey. Matilda can never understand why Corey’s small-talk seems to open in her mind doors to unspoken questions.

"Wasn't there long, Corey. I did some work down the coast the first few months. - an inlet down the coast, out East towards Alligator River.”

Corey shivers. "Sounds dangerous.”

"Out in the mangroves. - Mozzies are fierce after the Wet. You have to avoid the seas in Box Jelly-fish season. I - was working in King Tide country, out on the reefs."

Corey passes Matilda a mug of steaming tea. "Best to avoid the reefs, I'd imagine?” Matilda sips the tea. It is nice and strong. She is not unaware of the pull of the undercurrents of Corey's conversation.

"Yes” Matilda nods. "Tides come in twenty k’s. You've got to be -"

"Vigilant?” Corey touches Matilda's hand. "And did you achieve what you

wanted to?”

- She knows, thinks Matilda - knows without me saying. - Perhaps she's always known. "In Darwin? Oh yes, sort of.” replies Matilda lightly. "But not entirely.” - I tried, she says to herself. I just wasn’t capable and there's an end to it. She puts the mug down. "I mean Darwin's an odd sort of place. Boom Town-cum Frontier Town .”

“Perhaps that explains your Grandfather Liam? Some aspects of your father?”

“Maybe, but I doubt it. It’s a polyglot place. Lots of Chinese, Macassans, Japanese from the pearling days - all with Aussie accents. Got more claim to being Australian than I have. - Everyone fits in fine, provided they're into business and money. - Even the Aborigines - if they conform." Matilda reaches for another Melting Moment. "But the Bush Aborigines, or the Long Grass people -"

"Long Grass?”

"Aborigines who live on the outskirts. Territorian system's got very unforgiving By-laws to keep them out of the tourist precincts”, replies Matilda. "That's the ignorant, red-neck side of the Territory.” She glances up seriously. "Pretty ugly that can be." She smiles suddenly, that old smile that Corey remembers . "Other times the Territory can be pure farce.”


"Yes. Frontier town mentality. - Buffalo horns on walls. Wallets made of cane toad skin. Huge croc skins decorating pubs. Jabiru, the uranium town, the town for Kakadu National Park. - It's even got an up-market hotel shaped like a crocodile.” She rolls her eyes. “You drive in the front entrance through its teeth and these scary, little red crocodile eyes light up. Kakadu was the best! Teeming with life – such a contrast to our degraded wet-lands down south. The uranium mine is totally tragic in such a pristine place, let alone the effect on the traditional owners with this huge tailings dam seeping uranium, contaminating the Alligator Diver, their food-sources. – Thanks.” Matilda takes the mug of tea. “But then of course Darwin’s a modern city. Flattened twice. - Once in World War Two, when Dad was a boy. - Bombed flat. Then again in '76 by Cyclone Tracey. - So there's no sense of history up there - Almost as if Darwin had no past at all."

Corey pours Matilda another mug of tea. "Everything needs a past. But the place was restored, though? After the cyclone?” Matilda stares at the gilded tendrils of stencilled roses twining above the window sill.

"Yes, I suppose. It’s like when the tide goes out. – I spent a lot of time dealing with rock-pools, - rock-pools all along the coast teeming with life. - Anemones, Sea-grapes, Mud Crabs. In comes the King tide. Sweeps everything out to sea. Gone. – Completely.” Matilda brushes crumbs away from the gingham table-cloth.

Corey tumbles more biscuits onto the blue cake-plate. "But after the tide's retreated - the waters return. The tide brings the creatures back, surely? Life is replenished?"

"Oh – Yes.” Matilda toys with her half-empty mug. "It keeps coming in - the tide."

Corey raises her eyebrows. “So with the next tide, the lost creatures return, the whole system takes off again.” She checks the oven, takes out a tray of hot scones and tips them onto the bench. "You did what you had to do, then Matilda. Or at least you did your best."

- Yes, thinks Matilda to herself. Small comfort though. - But it wasn't enough. She glances at the plump, little Venus of Willendorf ensconced on Corey's huge, pine dresser. - I wish I was as strong as Corey, she thinks to herself wondering if the fernery still enshrines that obscene, sexy, sheelagh-na-gig statue.

Corey throws another log on the fire. The flames surge upwards. "Matilda, you don't dress warmly enough for Melbourne.”

Matilda smiles. The same can't be said for Corey. "I left my Winter woollies at Mum's last time I was in Melbourne” Corey's huge, fluffy jumper looks warm as toast. The bright, pink leggings wrapped around the green, track-suit pants are probably also one of Corey's hand-knits

"I think I stuffed things up this afternoon at Mum's class, Corey.” says Matilda. "I - told her students I didn't know which country Karolina comes from – Yugoslavia. - That's all I know. But I said Croatia. Karolina looked upset. The students seemed surprised too.” she says miserably. “I need to fix things up with my mum, but we don’t seem to be able - We really don’t know each other. Maybe, if I knew something – anything at all about - when she was three, four five. I mean knowing who a person was – what made them who they are -.then you can understand!” Matilda stares into the glow of the coals. "Corey, how do you lay ghosts?” she asks abruptly.

Corey cups the coffee-mug in both hands. "- A difficult question. Ghosts are like woolly jumpers.” she says. “- Leave 'em in the bottom drawer, they gather dust. A danger to health. Moths attack – bits missing. They don't get an airing. - On the other hand,” Corey pokes at the fire thoughtfully, "hang 'em out in the open for too long and they get expanded beyond all proportion. – Then again, if you don’t like the size, you can always shrink it - cut it down to size, give it an airing.” A log crashes in the fire-place. Corey deftly turns it over, sending a jet of sparks showering upwards. She smiles directly into Matilda's eyes. "It's really all a matter of timing,” she asserts, one eyebrow quirking upward. Matilda reaches for a scone.

"Home spun humour, ay? There speaks the weaver!” She laughs. "Next you'll have swagmen and jumbucks waltzing off into billabongs!"

Corey passes across butter and jam. "If that's where the ghosts lie. - Why not?"