When me father came home from his voyages, you knew. When me mother and I lived by ourselves every thing were quiet, but when me father were in the house there were sing ing and me mother kept bursting into giggles and me father's footsteps were loud and happy. o ne time when I were 'bout five he brought back some stuff from inside a whale. He had carved it out from deep inside its spout. It were like a small, grey, ugly sponge. He put it in a jar and sometimes I opened the lid and sniffed it. It half stank of dead, putrid things from the sea but when I got past that stink I smelt perfume, ever so sweet: a rosy, sugary mist. Me father said it were worth more than gold but he never tried to sell it it were to be me dowry. He had lots of memories of his whaling there were a harpoon on the wall, baleen always drying on the back verandah, rigging ropes and cutting blades so sharp that when the sun shone on the blades it cut the shine up into thin pieces. People smile when I say that, but I seen it with me own eyes.
His times away growed longer cos whales were harder to find. o nce d erwent River were so choked with whales that it were just a matter of going out in a boat and harpooning you could do it wearing a blindfold, there were so many right whales using the river as a nursery. The people of Hobart used to complain that they couldn't sleep cos of all the whales blowing all the time. That's how many there were, me father said. Now he had to go to all parts of the globe. Me mother and me were close, like sisters, when me father were away. She taught me to read and write. I were very keen on animals, especially Sam the pig. He were as big as a beer barrel and he allowed me to ride him. I spent a lot of time with him, talking to him in grunts and snuffles. I never made fun of him by going Oink, oink . Me mother used to get worried. Why you talking to Sam like he were a person? But I were lonely being a child in the bush by meself, and, you know, I were just a little girl, but I'd look at Sam as I were talking to him and he'd seem to understand, like he were listening really hard to me.
Cos I liked being outside and playing, I were always dirty and me mother would shake her head and say, You're grubby or filthy, but never clean, Hannah. I couldn't help it. If I ate food at the table, some of it would always slide out of the side of me mouth and plop onto me clothes. There's a cobweb across two trees in the back yard, well, I don't know how I do it, but pretty soon I'm wearing it like a hair net. Me hair were always such a mess that me mother 6 shoved a bowl on me head and cut me hair it were a real basin cut. It didn't bother me. But I must oppose meself here. Sometimes I did feel green with envy when me mum would take the pins out of her hair and let it fall down her back. It made her look like one of those mermaids in me picture books. I still remember her cry of Oh no, Hannah when I brung home wounded birds or wallaby joeys or blue-tongues. I were always sad to see animals hurt.
Cos our house were far from any town we didn't see many people. We might get a prospector passing by on his way out west where people said there were mountains of gold in places even the blackfellas had been too scared to live. A few times we had this same bounty hunter (or as we called them, tiger man) sleep in the barn for the night. He got paid for the number of tigers he killed. I forget his name, but he had ginger hair and a beard and stank something terrible because he'd rolled in tiger dung and piss, and he had yellow hands and teeth cos a cigarette were never out of his mouth or fingers. Me mother sticked lavender up her nose when he had tea with us so she didn't have to breathe his pong, but as the tiger man said, he had to smell like his prey so they wouldn't take flight when he came along. He told us how he caught two tiger pups and put them in a hessian bag and, knowing their mother were watching what he was doing from where she were hidden in the tall grass and ferns, he threw the bag into the lake and then walked off like he were leaving, but really he hid himself behind a tree and waited for the mother to rush down to the lake to rescue her pups. And when she did, he shot her. He showed no grief in telling us the story he were skiting, actually cos the tigers killed sheep, so many that the farmers cried poor. After he killed the mother he yanked the two pups from the bag and strangled them. When I said I felt sorry for the mother and pups the hunter said yes it were terrible, but either humans starved or the tigers did.
Excerpted from Into That Forest by Louis Nowra. Copyright © 2013 by Louis Nowra. Excerpted by permission of Amazon Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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