Why the Kookaburra Laughs


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Overview of the Story

Samantha ‘Sam’ Hawkins, as a 12 year old girl, did not want to grow up. Reflecting on the Summer of ’79, in fictional mid NSW town Worribin, Sam was forced to deal with the inevitable changes in herself; in her friendship with her best friend Jono and in her relationships at home with an increasingly violent PTS Vietnam Vet father.  Sam tries to make sense of racism; the influence of the local Catholic Church on family and the failure of the police to act when needed. Was Sam a mere observer or a participant in the events unfolding around her?


* This is an updated version of what first appeared in the Writing a Novel Anthology 2016.

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Why the Kookaburra Laughs

We were born a month apart, but I was a good inch taller than Jono.  His thin legs bulged at the knees.  A circle of scratches crusted his elbows and ruby red scabs streaked his pin arms.  A thick fringe of mousey hair, streaked blond by the Summers sun, fell over his face concealing grey eyes that sparkled with mischief.  Mum said girls grew quicker than boys at our age.  We both knew I was always going to be taller than him.  Dad was a whopping 6 foot 6 and Mum, though smaller, was of good German stock and not short.  As tall as I was, I still loved to spin with Jono, round and around, on the tilting Hills Hoist.  Knees up to my chest to stop my feet dragging us slower.  A kaleidoscope of flickering colours and images.  We laughed as we spun through the thick air of those hot, sticky summers.  The heat folded over us like gentle waves lapping a sun-drenched beach.  Birds panted flightless in the trees.  Cicadas exploded as a vibrating, rattling orchestra and then, just as quickly, fell still and silent.  Weekend jobs were stopped.  The cricket bat thwacked and a crowd howzatted across the radio waves.

It was particularly hot and humid that summer of ’79.  Released from my weekend chores I ran at the warm spoke of the hoist.  Hanging between flapping clothes I watched my shadow spray out over the dry dirt.  At the squeal of the metal pivot, Jono called from his bedroom window telling me to wait.  He jumped the low fence between our homes and chased the opposite empty lines of the hoists wheel.  Pounding the fairy ring we had made over the years, he jumped to grab an arm.  The hoist wobbled and kicked.  It screeched in chorus with our whoops of joy.   As we spun, we threw our heads back and let the air dry the sweat from our sticky necks.   I was jealous of Jono’s straight straw mop.  Mine, by contrast, a tight-curled ginger.

 ‘Let’s go to the river,’ Jono called through the hanging clothes and sagging wire cables dripping with empty pegs that hung like bats.

Without warning, I jumped free, letting the hoist lean dangerously under his weight.  His toes caught on the dirt and he tripped.  His legs crumbled over his feet.   Hands waved madly at the ground.  I stopped at the back door looking to see if he was okay.   He stared indignant and then smiled.  Raising a questioning eyebrow he waved me away, brushing the dirt from his shorts and yellow terry shirt. 

‘Meet you out front,’ he yelled.

I would have died of boredom without Jono on those long summer holidays.    We had spent most of them together.  The grainy family photos a record of our shared history.  Mum and Maureen sitting in stripy deck chairs, in floral tight waisted dresses and oversized sunglasses, laughed as Fred sprayed the hose.  Photos peeking at memories of running naked, screaming across the yard, daring each other to get closer to the spitting water.  In my mind I could hear Dad’s deep voice calling over the camera to be careful we didn’t slip.   There was Leo, Jono’s older brother, standing dark in the background his arms folded across his barrel chest.  On our sideboard there was a framed photo of Jono and I, hand-in-hand, sporting mirror pudding haircuts under floppy hats. It had been our first day at school.  Now, at 12 years old, we neither had the same hair cut nor held hands. 

I grabbed my pack from my bed, surfed down the hallway to the front door and  called out to Mum as I sped past the kitchen, ‘Mum, we’re going to the river.’

Mum sat at the kitchen table doing a cryptic crossword.  She looked up at the clock.

‘Take some water,’ she called over the radio.   Mum loved the radio.  Dad said it filled her head with nonsense.  I was not so sure that it did.  She listened to boring stuff like the daily cycle of news, classical music and scary stories that gave me nightmares.  I think he was more jealous of what she got from it.

Each Saturday, Mum waited for Dad to come home from the Store after midday closing.  He would want his lunch, which she would lay out for him and sit silently watch him eat.  She waited to see what mood he was in.  His temper raged most in the hot summers.  She said it reminded him of the sticky jungle in ‘Nam.  Mum said he couldn’t help it.  I thought he could.  He told me to control my temper so why couldn’t he control his?  It was typical of Dad. 

‘Do as I say, not as I do,’ he would say. 

I told Jono. 

‘That sucks,’ Jono said.

I thought so too.

Jono was waiting out front on his new Malvern Star Dragster.  He got it for Christmas.  I jealously eyed the shiny electric blue frame, the chrome mudguards that sparkled in the sunlight and the silver spokes of the wheels that flashed as they turned.  I sat tight behind Jono on the long banana boat seat with my ribs pushed hard against the framed loop back bar.  A couple of times Jono would let me ride it.  I would sit at the back of black seat, spine rolled forward so that my arms stretched full length to reach the high handlebars. My head was full of the imaginary roaring crowd as I revved the black rubber handle.  I was the rookie up against the seasoned dragster racer, Peter Dyke, whom I had beat. I did, of course, beat him that is.

Our street ran over the crest of the longest hill in our small town of East Worribin.  On the other side of the hill the road lead down to the river.  The cool waters circled round to the south and flowed along the valley that dipped away from the back of our yard beyond the bush and fields.  If you kicked on right away from the bottom of the hill and the river, the road led passed the Park up to the High Street, to Dad and Fred’s Hardware Store on the corner.  A short row of shops sat shoulder to shoulder on either side of the road.  Clearest in my memory were Mrs T’s Milk Bar, the Salvo’s second hand shop where Mum got some of our clothes and across the street, Mr Phan’s Veggie shop that used to be “Freckleton Bros. Antiques”.  The name of the antique shop still lined the awning despite the brothers having died five years earlier. 

The Catholic Church, the centre of our Sunday’s, had once sat at the edge of town welcoming travellers.  Over the years, fed from the Church’s roots, low roofed houses sprung out of the ground, flowering under the Church’s boughs.  The voice of Father Kev breathed into each home.   Down the alley’s, between the houses and through the back yards, you could reach the steep bank of the train line.  On the other side of the tracks was the old graveyard. The road that crossed the train line was a fair way towards the edge of town.  Dad would pass over that road, tavelling out towards the Brickworks where most of his drinking pals worked.  I heard the RSL was out there.

That Saturday, we were heading for the cool of the river.  The sun beat down through a cloudless deep blue sky.  Jono pushed hard down on the raised peddle.  The front wheel wobbled.  The handlebars pushed sharply right then left.  The sinews in his forearms stood proud as he strained against our weight.

‘What’ve you been eatin?’ he said as he strained to get some speed.

I whacked his back and ran my toes over the tarmac to help us move forward.  Standing from the seat, his knees knocking the handlebars, we crept to the crest of the hill.  I waved at Mrs Reilly couched on all fours at her flowerbed and then the bike took off.

‘Yahhhhhooooooo!’ Jono cried.  I yelled at the blue sky as the wheels of the bike spun furiously, my arms held out like stiff wings. We flew through the warm air, the promise of the cool water of the river beckoning.   But we were new to this hill with a new and well oiled pushie.  Jono’s whoops of excitement changed to yells of terror as the greased chain spun faster and faster.  White knuckled, I held onto the back bar, eyes fixed on the sharp turn at the end of Hill Street.  

‘Jono break?’ I yelled.

‘I can’t,’ I heard.  The catastrophe ahead playing out in my brain.  My mind screamed of our disaster.  I realised to brake meant we would go over the handle bars.

‘Don’t brake,’ I cried.

‘Noooo,’ he said standing out of his seat again, leaning forward over the handlebars.  What was he doing?

As we approached the corner, he pulled the bike out wide to the right and then leant into the sharp left bend.  Instinctively I followed the line of his body as the bike gripped the sticky tarmac melting in the sun.  We swooped through the bend.  Relief flooded through my veins but too soon the high curb loomed at the end of the street.  Jono tried to lift the front wheel as it hit the raised concrete.  The bike bounced.  I landed heavily on the front edge of the seat.  My crotch smashing hard into the metal frame beneath the thin padding.  I cried with the pain that shot up through my bones.  The bike catapulted.  We were a flash of flying wheels, legs and arms, crashing into the hard dirt and dry scratchy grass. I saw sky and rocks and bush and sky and spindle grass before landing flat on my back and all went black.

The next I remember is looking up into the shimmer of a pale blue sky.  Groans echoed through my head.  My own pain-filled moans.  I closed my eyes remembering the bike, the hill and Jono. I turned my head slowly to the right and looked for him.  I turned to the left.  Neither he nor the bike were there.

‘Jono?’ I croaked.  The black and white currawong warbled his sing song reply.  The crickets returned their summer hum through the spiky grass.

‘Jono?’ I called again and was rewarded with a groan to my right.

’You okay?’ I called breathless, slowly moving my right arm.  I strummed my fingers to check they worked and lifted my right knee.  It ached but moved.  The ankle of my left leg stung as I tried to lift it.   ‘If it moves, it isn’t broken,’ Dad would say.

‘I think I’ve broken somethin,’’ Jono whined.

‘Don’t be a wozz,’ I said. 

He groaned again.  I lifted myself up on my hands and knees looking over the grass toward the sound of his voice.  He was sitting upright, his hands folded over the top of his head as he pressed his forehead against his raised knees.

Down towards the river, I could see the spinning wheel of the upended bike.

‘You okay?’ I asked again crawling towards him, ‘Serious Jono, are you hurt?’

‘I think I’ve broken my ankle,’ he wheezed and lifted his hurt leg just above the ground.  He squealed in pain.

‘Jono, I’ll go get help,’ I scrambled to standing.  Gingerly, I leant down on my aching left foot.

He dropped his head between his legs and swore.

I rubbed my right temple with the palm of my hand and hobbled a few steps back the way we’d come.

‘I’ll be as quick as I can,’ I said.

Then, ’Tricked ya’’  A beaming smile spread across his face as he wiggled his “broken” ankle at me.

‘Toad.’  I growled, falling back to the ground.

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The Author: Lindsay Holliday

Lindsay Holliday is a lawyer and writer. Inspired by courtroom observations, her first manuscript deals with the complicity of the Church and Police in crimes against the vulnerable. Lindsay writes stories that explore how the young survive abandonment by authorities that are charged to protect them.


* If you are interested in contacting the author please email lindsay.holliday@icloud.com or phone +61 (0)421 744 556.


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