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In the Shade of the Shady Tree

Stories of Wheatbelt Australia

John Kinsella

Publication Year: 2012

 In the Shade of the Shady Tree is a collection of stories set in the Western Australian wheatbelt, a vast grain-growing area that ranges across the southwestern end of the immense Australian interior. The stories offer glimpses into the lives of the people who call this area home, as we journey from just north of the town of Geraldton to the far eastern and southern shires of the region.

Cast against a backdrop of indigenous dispossession, settler migration, and the destructive impact of land-clearing and monocultural farming methods, the stories offer moments of connection with the inhabitants, ranging from the matter-of-fact to the bizarre and inexplicable. Something about the nature of the place itself wrestles with all human interactions and affects their outcomes. The land itself is a dominant character, with dust, gnarled scrubland, and the need for rain underpinning human endeavor. Inflected with both contemporary ideas of short fiction and the “everyman” tradition of Australian storytelling, this collection will introduce many readers to a new landscape and unforgettable characters.

Published by: Ohio University Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xx

Last night a storm hit this drought-ravaged place without warning. It was a brutal assault. We kept our roof, but neighbors lost theirs. There are a number of large York gums down—snapped off low on their trunks. Inside the trunks, the...

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pp. xxi

ABC Radio National, The Advertiser, The Age, Agni, Antipodes, Best Australian Stories 2006 (edited by Robert Drewe), Best Australian Stories 2007 (edited by Robert Drewe), Best Australian Stories 2010 (edited by Kate Kennedy)...

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pp. 1-5

Ben gets on the phone immediately and rings his brother, who farms two hours’ drive away. It’s raining! he yells. Really raining. It’s raining! What’s it like at your place? Nothing here, replies his brother in a subdued tone. Ben...

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pp. 6-14

They had their hearts set on purchasing a piece of land up north, but not too far north. Coastal—or as near coastal as they might afford. Close to a town for supplies, but not too close to a town: they wanted privacy and a sense of having “got away” from it all. This wasn’t really...

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the fireball

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pp. 15-19

There’s a right and a wrong way of doing things, Harold said. Jenny thought, The right way is usually the wrong way. And if it weren’t for the kids . . . She bit her lip, as always. But Dad, Jim said, those caves are amazing. You should...

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pp. 20-25

The more easygoing among us usually called him “Fossil,” but resorted to the standard “Carcass” when one of his more outlandish goals, or “victories,” was achieved. And for the purposes of the yarn I am about to relate, he most certainly...

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pp. 26-31

The seven-year itch. Sarcoptic mange. Microscopic parasites. Sarcoptes mites. Laying their waste on the skin, inside hair follicles. Secondary infections. Hair loss. Foxes plead for warmth, and wander in the full-blown light of day. A daylight foxstrike on the road...

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the cartesian diver

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pp. 32-35

It had been a drier year than usual in a very dry place. So dry that farmers hadn’t even bothered putting in crops over the autumn and winter. The dams were empty, and wells drawn on, to the point of insolvency, windmills turning hard in the blazing...

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pp. 36-43

One of the last towns before the desert, certainly the last town which might just be described as belonging to the “wheatbelt.” The far far northeastern boundary, out where the dusty broad-acres meet the scrub, where the rain falls more...

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a load of bricks

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pp. 44-50

When we needed to build on, the boys having long waited for separate rooms, it didn’t surprise me that Bob said he’d build it himself. That’s the kind of fella he is, my husband. And when he said he’d take the truck down to the city and...

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the pact

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pp. 51-56

They live a long way out. Isolated. Few neighbors. Few cars ever passing the front gate, which, though the property is large, is not far from the house. A few hundred meters at most. She is alone because her husband is up on the mines. Their first season on the place didn’t bring a wheat check. That...

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the porch

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pp. 57-60

It’d be safe to say that he’s been sitting on that porch for a good portion of thirty years, sitting there in a blue singlet and greasies whatever the weather. He retired eight years ago, and since then his time spent on the porch has increased. Maybe...

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pp. 61-68

The EK Holden first appeared on the Australian car scene—on the road—in 1961. In essence, it was a rehashed FB Holden with less silver trim. Both the FB and EK looked like sea beasts that had emerged from the great oceans that hem Australia in and hold it in place. It is said that the tail fins and...

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pp. 69-74

I’d just come in from ploughing when I heard crying. A baby, crying. I kicked my boots off at the back door and followed the cries through to the bedroom, where I saw Margaret on the bed, leaning against the bedhead,...

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the garden

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pp. 75-79

Water had to be carted over half a dozen small hills and a dozen sizeable paddocks to sustain the garden. The garden, within its crown-of-thorns fencework dug deep to keep the rabbits out, was surrounded by pasture already yellow not...

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the vacant block

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pp. 80-86

It was one of the larger inland wheatbelt towns, with substantial rail yards and massive wheat bins. Locals considered it the state’s heartland. Kids would say, If someone drops a lit cigarette into the grid of that A-type bin, the whole...

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the house near the cemetery

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pp. 87-94

Well, I’ve been doctoring in this town for forty years, and I know a bit about what goes on behind the scenes. I wasn’t born and bred here—I actually did my early doctoring down in Albany, and have a love of that wild coast. Like most...

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the appointment

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pp. 95-99

After patients have drops put in, they are placed in a half-lit room. Gradually, pupils dilate and patients become grateful there’s only enough light to see by, and not enough to bother their suddenly sensitized eyes. There’s a window, but...

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the fable of the gravel pit

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pp. 100-103

When his neighbor “let him know,” he was furious. He even thought of “outing him,” as they say, but that would backfire, for sure. Damaging Samuel that way would only damage himself, though their interaction was thirty years ago...

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the donation

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pp. 104-108

Two years had passed since the fires, and her rebuilt home was finally ready for habitation. It had been a long battle—the insurance company resisted paying the full amount, and the power company had fought hard to avoid paying...

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pp. 109-113

He’d driven dozers for thirty years. From Bobcats to D10s. As a young bloke, he’d started in a warehouse driving forklifts. Now, that’s an art form. The experienced could whiz them around on a pin and load a truck faster than an army by...

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the graduation

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pp. 114-119

If the Town Hall was not “decked out” for the occasion, it was the next-best. A few balloons floating in the corners, regally attired ushers garnered from the crop of next year’s prefects—recently elected to office. The toilets had been spruced up, and an afternoon tea was promised in the foyer for...

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bad credit

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pp. 120-124

The drive from Y. to N. takes about half an hour. The back road is never busy, so a late-afternoon drive isn’t much different from a late-night or early-morning drive. They just ambled their way north, riding sidecar to the almost setting sun...

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rule in favor

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pp. 125-128

It was great to see his mate after all those years. They’d “done time” at uni together, worked their way through law school. We’re both from the wrong side of the tracks, Ron would joke. And he knew he could make the joke. His...

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cave visit

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pp. 129-133

It was a long drive but one that had long been promised. The children were ecstatic. They asked if their grandmother could come, but Mother said not, because she would find it difficult getting down steps into the cave. She took...

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pp. 134-139

I don’t believe you, she said to him, as the sun sat on the edge of the hill. It’s true, he said emphatically. And you said this was a mountain and it’s really a big hill. It is a mountain, he said. It’s over a thousand feet above sea level, and that makes it a mountain...

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in the shade of the shady tree

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pp. 140-147

The Shady Tree. The Tree at the Center of Town. The Big Fig Tree. The Lovers’ Tree. It had a bunch of names, with different age groups favoring different names. It was an old tree, at least sixty years, and long ago seats had been set up under its...

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pp. 148-152

He checked the saplings out front and then went back inside. Eucalypts, they’d made it through the summer and were looking sturdy. It was his achievement, his reason for being outside, with the paddocks spreading around. The place was an...

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pp. 153-157

They came in the early hours of the morning to bring down the tree. To cover the sound of the chainsaw, the father had his boys rev the shit out of their motorbikes. He was a man who loathed hoons, but when needs must . . .

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the purple suit

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pp. 158-163

It was two years since Solomon’s father’s “accident.” Two years to the day when the invitation to the harvest ball arrived. The ball was to be a formal affair—one sponsored by the Shire from its mysterious “entertainment” fund, various...

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pp. 164-167

The big people were fussing about, lining them all up. They looked across at each other and gripped their trike handles hard. Festooned with Christmas decorations, the trikes were mighty machines. Both of them wanted to speak, but the...

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pp. 168-173

Where the great wandoo forests abut open farmland, there’s a sense of possibility that can corrupt as much as stimulate mystery. The edge effect has implications that police and locals are all too conscious of. Casual dope smokers get ideas into...

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the life history of a wheatbelt music teacher

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pp. 174-179

When Miss Lutz came into money, she knew exactly what to do with it. The town of Q. lay just over an hour east of Northam and was one of the state’s important wheat places. Miss Lutz, as she now called herself again, had married into an old family during...

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the offering

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pp. 180-183

It was a long, hot walk from town to their new “making-a-go-of-it place” in the paddocks. She was angry because she’d trusted him. A small house, almost a shack, two pencil pines, and acre on acre of painfully long dry grass. More...

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the legend of the boat

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pp. 184-190

I am a legend in these parts. Hardly a day goes by without some schoolkid coming to the river’s edge—on both sides—looking out into the dark waters, and uttering my name in hushed but excited tones. My story will live forever...

E-ISBN-13: 9780804040501
Print-ISBN-13: 9780804011372

Publication Year: 2012

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