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<Child of the Plateau> Chapter 1

<Child of the Plateau> Chapter 1

A child named Mangana is rejected and forced to leave her isolated home in the Tasmanian alpine wilderness. She struggles to find a place to belong as she comes of age in Hobart. Mana joins a team of whale rescuers headed to the North-West Coast. Once there, she rediscovers her mother, Sarah. Past resentment consumes her then sends her into the wild ocean as a form of escape. Mana discovers a new passion for life on the waves which enables her heart to heal, making a pathway for their reconciliation. Mana survives a terrifying attack from a group of surfers at an ancient petroglyph site on the beach. The surfers return, but this time are brought to redemption by a now strong Mangana and her crew of whale rescuers. Coming full circle, Mana and her mother travel back to the high country to face their past. Mana confronts her hermit like father, Stan, with a tale of his abuse. Stan meets a tragic end while facing his nemesis, a feral stag, and Mana and Sarah leave the Highlands with whatever forgiveness they have been able to find.

2

Literary fiction


author-small

Karen Harrland (Australia)


Stan rested the barrel of his rifle on a moss-covered fence post, his ears cocked for deer. He peered through the shroud of mist before him that threaded through the stringy bark forest like an old fishing net.
He heard nothing, no tell-tale bleats, no bushes rustling. He relaxed a little but stayed in his pose. This stag he was looking for was a cunning bastard. He’d been trying to get him for years, but the old fella seemed to get wilier with age. Stan knew he’d lost all sense of reason as to why he wanted him, it wasn’t the meat, he had more than enough of that with his handful of sheep, trapped rabbit and plentiful deer.
Stan hated that big stag bastard with a passion. Sure, it trashed his forest, ate everything that should be tucker for the little native fellas and would have bred many more offspring to continue the carnage. But really, if he thought hard about it, he reckoned his obsession must have had something to do with his lost wife and now his lost daughter.
His wife Sarah and he had moved out to the hut together years ago. They’d met when she was involved in an anti-logging meeting of all things, down in the Liffey Valley, where the old growth rainforest valleys met the sheer cliffs of Dry’s Bluff. He’d been doing his best to sell the hippies some fresh roo meat. Not that they bought any, vegetarians they reckoned, as if he could ever have such a choice!
He’d sat at their fire for a while, making the most of their flagon of port. She’d said that she liked how he was so ‘grass roots.’ He couldn’t take his eyes off her. He’d brought her back to the hut for a visit, thinking he’d make it nice and romantic, but to also let this whimsical hippy chick know what being out bush was really like: cold and hard. To his surprise, she’d reckoned that she loved it.
Of course, he thought it was too good to be true. The chances of him hooking up with such a beautiful, smart woman was bloody slim and he figured he’d better keep their life pretty quiet, so that she’d forget about the rest of society and not feel tempted to leave him.
Thinking back on it, he might have gone a bit overboard on the isolation thing, it might have been better if she’d had someone to talk to. A spider bite of remorse settled into his gut, but he shook it off. Bugger it, she’d made her choices too, it wasn’t his fault she was weak and couldn’t handle it. He’d always put food on the table and a roof over their heads. He felt his mind firm up and push away the self-doubt that might tip him into madness.
He’d grown up mostly in town, Bothwell. It was a funny little half-arsed place on the edge of the Central Plateau and his Dad liked to say it looked over the rest of Tasmania. They had one of those crumbling stone houses on the outskirts of town, but made their living from the hut, shooting deer, rabbits, roos and whatever else they could eat. They got pretty good at growing food too; with the lake nearby, they had all the water they needed, not to mention fish.
Once Dad got sick and had to stop his wood-hooking business, Stan’d had to haul the wood and also take on all the shooting to bring in meat for the littl’uns, while Mum worked herself to death sewing for the town. He’d be out hunting and hauling wood all day, then fall asleep at night hearing the ‘thump, thump’ of her foot, pumping the treadle up and down on the old Singer.
His Mum and Dad had both died within a year of each other. Dad of cancer of the lung, too many smokes, then Mum from a broken heart. A broken heart from too much hard work, that is.
He would have only been fourteen himself when the social services came with their fancy car. He remembered the resignation in their eyes as they looked at what remained of his family. They told him he couldn’t look after his three siblings, though he’d made it pretty clear that he could. He’d even yelled at all the kids to take off and go bush. The bastards were too quick though. They’d pulled out a bag of lollies and had the boys bundled in the car with the doors locked before you could blink.
They’d cried too, especially little Maisie, his favourite. She’d clung to him screaming, her nails digging into his arm as they dragged her away. He rubbed his fore-arm as he stood in the forest and remembered her dark eyes as she pressed her face against the window.
After he’d lost the littl’uns he’d felt like he’d been set adrift, like those icebergs he’d heard about in the North Pole. He’d refused to get in the car with them and they said they’d come back, but if they did he’d been long gone. He knew how to take care of himself.
‘Living from the land.’ He’d smirked when Sarah had explained that all her friends thought it was so ‘cool.’ Sarah was all sunshine and roses then, talking hippy crap about getting away from society.
He picked up his gun and walked across the paddock. His boots were soaked – the mossy grass was wet ten months of the year, the other two it was frozen solid. The green blades caught a beam of sun just as it edged below the mountain behind him.
He’d ‘lived from the land,’ 'cos no-one else was going to feed him. But still, it had made his wife feel good, to get rid of all the capitalist stuff as she called it. She’d arrived with her long hair and beads. Oh, he remembered that hair, it was the colour of the world when there was nothing else left, the night sky on a cloudy night, so dark it was like velvet. He had been convinced he wouldn’t need anything else once he had her and besides the odd whisky, it had been pretty much true.
In those days, he’d figured that he was strong enough, replete with muscle and attitude. Dismissive of those soft pansy boys she was with when he’d met her, with their ‘Save the Forest’ stickers and peace signs. He guessed that’s what she was looking for, not that she’d ever admit it. Someone who could take care of her, a real man.
Stan walked up the two steps of the cottage, leant his rifle against the wall and knocked the wallaby shit off his boots. He levered them off, then, after picking up two large chunks of stringy bark, pushed open the timber door and walked inside. His eyes adjusted to the gloom and he knelt by the fire, neatly moving the charred log aside to fit another piece, stoking the flames so they licked around the wood, seducing it into its warmth.
He sat at the melamine table, on the timber chairs they’d found on the side of the road all those years ago and brought in on the back of his Dad’s old Holden ute. The one that was still parked in the shed. He carefully lit the kerosene lantern and, in the flickering light, poked the kettle on the stove to a warmer spot.
She’d liked it at first, doted on the house and made it a home, crocheted beanies for them both, then a tea cosy. She’d scrubbed every corner of the old house, till the dark floorboards gleamed and the fireplaces were spotless. They’d rebuilt the vegie patch, laughing together as they’d fallen in the mud and slop, then made love out there, on a pile of soft moss. His fingers rubbed together, remembering the feel of her soft skin.
They'd worked side by side to build a fence to protect the new seedlings that braved the mountain air. He’d shown her how to tend the dope plants and hide them amongst the tomatoes. ‘That’s paying for our kerosene,’ he’d explain, ‘and it’s our entertainment in the winter.’ She laughed at him, but soon took to it herself, they both did, probably a bit too much.
A smile twitched his lips as he stared into the flames, remembering how she would scream at the hungry roos that invariably broke in. She clanged saucepans together and chased them across the paddock while he would watch laughing. They’d been happy, blissfully happy. He’d bring home a fresh deer to eat and she would turn it into a stew that would last them days. They had no fridge, or electric power. They'd put the pot outside to keep it fresh during the day. It was certainly cold enough.


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