Shelagh Grieveson is a friend of The Morning Bell and a mature-age new writer. She is the perfect example of the fact that new talent doesn’t necessarily mean young talent. Shelagh uses experience from years spent in England and Australia to craft believable worlds for her stories.
Here’s what she has to say about herself:
I grew up in Liverpool in the North West of England and started writing stories at about the age of nine or ten. Often I would write in candlelight during the interminable long bitter nights and relentless power-cuts of the early seventies.
As children, my brother Billy and I had a couple of old walnut wardrobes and the darkened, gnarled burrs amongst the caramel swirls in the polished wood appeared like faces. We were terrified of these featureless patches that seemed to shift and stare at us in the half-light but it was these wardrobes that inspired my storytelling.
Nowadays I write in a tiny shed in the back of my garden and this is my sacred, hallowed messy space. It is crammed with books, bits of fabric, charcoal sketching, paints, candles, collections of feathers, stones and shells and all the things that are meaningful to me.
The writing process usually takes place in my head, as I go about my day and over time, ideas percolate and take form. I rarely sit and wait for inspiration and if I do, it rarely comes.
I love writing; writing helps me to make sense of my world and myself.
By Shelagh Grieveson
The shot ricochets and echoes, a flicker of movement and the animal falls into bush; Gebert scans for others and rattles across the creek bed in his truck. The Eastern Grey lays twitching on its side with one hind leg still kicking, as if moving to the beat of a tune. He estimates that it must weigh at least ninety kilos. Clicking insects accompany the evening chill and a whisper takes him by surprise. The head of the somnolent kangaroo lolls over a stone revealing a clean single bullet hole above the left eye.
He had felt Lola’s presence just twice in two decades. The first time he had been working out in the exercise yard and he could taste her, a sweet fusion of bergamot and female as she brushed against his shoulder. On the second occasion he had been asleep in his bunk and was woken by the mournful call of an owl and in the half- light, framed by a stain on the north wall of his cell was Lola’s unmistakable silhouette. She stood leaning with her head cocked sideways as she often did when she was looking at him, her hands placed above and below her swollen belly. Respite came as a kaleidoscope of ochre and indigo dreams, corn flour blue skies, skeins of mescal pink cloud and glorious rain, rinsing and transforming the landscape. Some nights he would wake weeping, saturated in sweat and clutching at the opal.
He rolls another smoke adding a pinch of dirt into the mix, a ritual learned from watching his old man. This one was a boomer and would sell for a decent price. He’d had a bad run the last few weeks, the weather, and a shot gone astray. The chillers refused to take meat for human consumption if not shot through the head. It takes all his strength to haul the animal from the thick tussock onto flat ground. Within minutes, he has him tied, trussed and hooked up onto the rack. Overhead, a wedge tailed eagle hovers, swooping low into the bush and rising again with a small animal writhing in its clutch.
He inhales and swats a mosquito from his forearm but the insect returns with a sting and he smacks at the plump, glistening ruby bead, licking at the smear and takes another drag. The light changes and as he spits on the stub and presses it into his tin, he senses her, just fleetingly.
‘Lola,’ He mouths her name, placing emphasis on the o, ‘the bastards – fuck ‘em, they’ll pay, they’ll fuckin’ pay…’ The time had come and he was prepared.
She had been alone that night and he was out of town transporting heavy drill parts to the Mulla Mulla Mine. Her feet had become swollen and when the visiting doctor had examined her he suggested that she check herself into the medical center early the next day. She had packed her bag but was exhausted and just wanted to rest.
Wiping his forehead with a damp rag and taking a swig of water, he decides to make his way towards the track – it will be quicker, he remembers using it as a young lad. Often, his old man and Uncle Pete would head off past Werrbeera, loaded up with beer and a couple of barrels of water sloshing around in the back of the Ute. Gebert loved the journey, his stomach would do somersaults as Uncle Pete put his foot down and sped through the red dust and spinnifex. Felix, the old kelpie, would come along and Gebert would sit on a cushion, wedged in the front seat between the two men, keeping a tally of the termite nests, like tombstones in the vast, barren landscape.
One time, Gebert had become snared on a barbed Dingo trap; his old man had sewn him up, splashing his bloodied hand with bourbon and using his teeth to gather the frayed edges of skin, said it was more hygienic than a knife. It had been a tough lesson for a young lad.
He winces now as he traces the tip of his little finger over his wrist and hand. Lola had called him Feather Man. The scar had healed with a jagged edge and fanning across the upper aspect of his left hand, tapering into a three-inch single line. The fierce desert sun had pigmented the scar and created bands of brown and white, resembling the barred wing feathers of the powerful owl.
Lola, Lola, elegant and petite with gamine features and dark arched eyebrows, she hadn’t stood a chance that night.
A train, snakes and glitters across the plains and a tail-less salamander jumps in front of him. His thoughts drift to his old man, he was proud of his shooting prowess and keen to share his knowledge with his son. He would navigate and point to landmarks, always testing Gebert to remember and check his location and, above all, to never become lost. There were favourite spots such as, String Boy Canyon, The Boorabim Creek and Ghost Gum Valley. They taught him how to load and hold a rifle, skin a roo and to follow the law of the bush, it didn’t take him long to learn. The golden rule was to never slay a female carrying a Joey. The old fella would sniff out rabbits, roos, snakes and wild pigs on pure instinct. They spent hours spotlighting and skinning, then the three of them would jump into the dam with a cake of soap hooting and singing before settling into the glow of a campfire. The two men would reminisce, trumping each other with tales of bush bravado as they sculled their grog, lulling Gebert to sleep under a liquorice sky.
He had practiced on the farm with dozens of slug guns, keeping his head down as he fired.
On his tenth birthday Pa had given him a .22 double barrel rifle, set inside a mahogany box lined with dark velvet. They had celebrated and he was allowed a beer, it was one of his happiest memories as they sat around the old agar and Ma made a rich braise with dumplings, a pile of damper and Sandra would wow everyone with her lemon delicious pudding. Uncle Pete, Aunty Kerrie and their boys Lionel and Tom came over with a crate of home brew and Uncle Pete and dad-strummed guitar singing Slim Dusty and Buddy Williams. The next day he practiced out along the Carvel Track knocking out four dingoes and dozens of rabbits.
He lifts his neck chain to free the opal from inside his shirt and rubs it with his fingers, his mind unable to settle.
In his thirteenth year, one summer morning he had been searching about the farm for a couple of spare tyres. As he flung the door open to the shearing shed a lone crow flew at him and the bright sunshine flooded the building. It was difficult to make sense of the scene but as his eyes became accustomed to the shadows, in a recessed corner holding pen where his Pa would often isolate sick or injured sheep, hung the lopsided corpse of his sister, Sandra. Above her on the sloping metal roof, an arc of sunlight created a halo, illuminating her bloated face and tongue, which protruded from her mouth like a fat, grey slug. Rendered mute Gebert stood in the eerie silence punctuated by the groan of the loaded Oregon beam as a warmth spread down his legs.
After Sandra’s death no one talked. Ma spent her days bereft and slumped over the grave and the old man spiralled into alcohol-fuelled oblivion. The farm went to ruin.
He left school and roamed aimlessly, stealing cars and smoking dope until he landed a job at Gundadurra Canyon where he retreated deep into the dark, subterranean caverns of the mines; the throb of the earth offered him solace and safety from pain.
Life was rough but he kept to himself. Occasionally he would take off into the bush and re-imagine himself as a young lad scoring a couple of wallabies or a wild boar until he met Lola. She had managed the canteen, a quiet, measured woman and quick too.
Together, they had set up a home just outside town where she found work as a cleaner at a local motel; Gebert began earning good money drilling for a new company, it was almost enough to leave the desert life behind and forge a fresh start in Adelaide.
Her remains were discovered near the Williams Creek mine; she was still wearing his blue opal. The bones of their child were never found.
He curses under his breath and coughs; his mind drifts to his time inside, the loneliness and grief. The pricks had him framed; a knot tightens in his belly. A flurry of movement near Cathedral Rock catches his eye and he uses his binoculars to follow a mob of about twenty moving quickly. They blend into the bush. He crouches down, aware that a large group like this will have spotters scanning the surrounding landscape. He estimates that they would be traveling fifteen km west, towards Burrawong so he decides to make a loop up the northwest track. The truck rattles past hollowed lifeless trees like sculpted contorted skeletons leering across the track. The dead animal jostles as if it were dancing, he can smell her hair, a pain gnaws deep in his groin and he pushes down hard on the accelerator. How good it had been to return to her after long hours blasting dynamite. He leans forward to peer through the smear of moths on the window screen, a couple of desert rats dart and scamper into the darkness.
The pain radiates into his buttocks as the mob comes into view. He slows down and pulls over into a rocky indentation, watching them in the scrub, grazing in groups of four. There are more than he had realized, he calculates roughly ten would be manageable. They are perfectly encircled within a patch of clear moonlight and are oblivious.
Stony faced, aligned and focused, his gun is liquid mercury. With his finger down hard, his mouth waters and he imagines the satisfaction of pulling the trigger on those two pricks. He would take them out, it was time and, he was ready.
He is resolute, his teeth gritted, eyes narrowed to thin slits. He had waited and bided his time, hardened by patience, seething anger and pain but had done his homework and he knew where they were. The bastards would pay. He is itchy with sweat and looks ahead, getting a visual rather than an aim and swallows hard, their pouches are bulging, he drops the rifle and they continue to feed.