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87 • the house near the cemetery 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 of the older people in this town, I take my annual holidays down there, and that helps me keep a perspective on this place. Don’t get me wrong, I love it here, but I’ve never really felt part of it. An eternal outsider. But as a doctor, I think that’s an advantage—people will tell you things they wouldn’t tell others. If they feel you’re outside the “blood” of the place, they’re less likely to gossip. From what I hear, the doctor before me, who was born and bred here, and came back much later in life to serve out his last medical years as town GP, was always suspected of betraying confidences, though in reality I’d say he never uttered a word out of place. I hear a lot of unusual things that need to remain between me and my patients. But I will tell you a story that’s not Meckering/Cunderdin 88 j o h n k i n s e l l a often mentioned, though it runs like a spinal cord through the psyche of the town, and is no great secret. Rather, it’s just not spoken about, in the hope that shifting generations will push it aside to a minor part of the body—a nerve in a finger or a toe that might twinge every now and again but can be effectively ignored. One of the main players is dead now, and his wife is in a nursing home in Perth. The daughter lives in town still. The old house down by the cemetery had long been vacant. It was on land belonging to Nick the Slav, as they called him, and though it wasn’t right next to the cemetery, it was the closest building to the graves. Maybe a half mile away, out in the middle of a paddock. One old pepper tree in the house yard, and a well that was almost dry, but there was enough fresh water down there to get by on. The house itself was in a sorry state. The walls had been cracked open by the Meckering quake of ’68, and the floors torn apart. Nick was in there at the time with his wife and daughter, and they all ran outdoors as the place began to shake and shake and buckle.When the quake stopped, they huddled together in the family station wagon, though they feared each aftershock and tremor might be the start of another big one that’d open up the ground beneath the wagon and swallow them whole. They weren’t far wrong—the fault line weaves its way through the neighboring farm, and if you look down from the hill it’s like a ledge that extends for miles. Before the quake, it was all flat. Nick and his family never stayed another night there. They moved into town, and Nick ran the farm from a distance, going out every day to his sheds, which were a short way from the house but sustained little damage by comparison. The steel frame of one shed buckled a bit, but not much else. A “clearer” in his youth—hacking out scrub and burning off thousands of acres—Nick had never forgotten the bonfires he helped feed for years. He’d said to the woman who would 89 t h e h o u s e n e a r t h e c e m e t e r y become his wife that the fires had looked like dying stars, or like the sun suffocating in its own smoke. She found him poetic, and didn’t regret coming all the way from the Old Country to start a new life. They’d known each other in childhood, and their families had always considered they’d be married. But before they tied the knot, Nick had been living in work huts and learning the language—he wrote to her to say he had saved enough to buy a small farm on marginal land. So they were married, and his wife was quickly pregnant, and their daughter eventually taught her...


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