As part of Dean Maye’s release of ‘Gifts of the Peramangk’ through Central Avenue Publishing, he given me an exclusive excerpt from the novel itself.
The breeze rustled through the tops of the plane trees lining the street and the eucalyptus behind the buildings. The strong scent from the eucalyptus wafted through the main street catching Virginia’s attention and she stopped for a moment to appreciate it. It was one of her favourite smells. It was clean and crisp. It was home.
All of the children turned then, almost simultaneously at the sound of Bobby’s voice and followed his outstretched finger as a trio of vehicles came into view from the far end of the township. As they approached, the children could make out the familiar black and white colours of a police sedan leading the convoy of three, followed by a grey sedan which was in turn shepherded by a rickety looking tray truck.
They glanced at each other with a hint of nervousness.
Mrs. Stinson appeared at the entrance to her shop, having heard the approaching vehicles and she crossed over the street to stand next to Sylvia.
The vehicles slowed to a stop, drawing close to the curb on the opposite side of the street. The children watched as the engines were silenced and the three cars sat for a moment. Bobby stood, growing suspicious of the new arrivals.
The doors to both the police sedan and the grey sedan snapped open. Two constables stepped out, as didtwo suited men after them. They inspected their surroundings with a mixture of befuddlement and barely concealed distaste.
Virginia’s attention was drawn to the two suited men who stood directly across from her.
The first man – the driver – was tall, possibly the tallest man Virginia had ever seen. Dressed in a drab, grey tweed suit and colourless bow tie, he sported spiky, thinning hair that was perfectly manicured into an impeccable short back and sides. His features were sinister, with long, sallow cheeks that gave his thin lips theappearance of being permanently pursed. His eyes were distorted behind thick, black rimmed glasses that sat, perched precariously, on the tip of his nose. He held a clipboard in one arm as he swiped his free hand down his jacket absently.
His colleague, who emerged from the far side of the sedan, rounding the vehicle to stand next to him, was an equally dour presence. This man was barely half his colleague’s size, his head reaching to just past the top of his colleague’s chest. Dressed similarly in uninspiring grey tweed, his slick, brown hair was combed severely to one side with Bryll Cream. It did not move in the afternoon breeze. This man wore a pair of gold rimmed glasses over small eyes and large, bushy eye brows and a short, thick moustache that gave him a perpetual scowl.
Virginia’s mother glanced at Mrs. Stinson then placed her hand protectively on Virginia’s shoulders, drawing Virginia close to her as the tall man set his eyes upon the group. She glanced to the old tray truck from which two more men had stepped. She recognised one of them right away – the township’s kindly local doctor, Dr. Flaherty, a man who usually wore a smile, no matter what his disposition might be. Today, however, he appeared particularly troubled. He was accompanied by a second man, unfamiliar to Virginia and her mother. He carried a battered leather Gladstone bag which was partly opened and revealed the end of a stethoscope that hung lazily down one side.
Virginia looked up at her mother and the worry etched into her features was palpable; Virginia felt that worry seep into her pores, into her blood and it coursed through her.
The tall man adjusted the clip board he held in his arm and gestured wordlessly to the two medicos, approaching the two women who were now joined by the proprietor of the general store, the butcher immediately next door, and the postmistress. The children, who had retreated a little further to the verandah of the store, watched as the man nodded to the police constables on his left.
Mrs. Stinson stepped forward through the group, puffing her chest out boldly, setting her expression like steel as the men approached.
“What seems to be the trouble, Wally?” she queried Dr. Flaherty malevolently. “This is all a little theatrical, even for you.”
Dr. Flaherty was unable to make his jaw move immediately and he looked down awkwardly at the bitumen.
“Routine inspection, Grace,” the doctor grumbled, gesturing to the two suited men. “This is Bytes of theAborigines Protection Board. He’s here to…”
“There have been reports, from this District,” the tall man, Bytes, interjected abruptly, eyeballing Mrs. Stinson. “…of mal-nourishment and serious illness among the blacks. It is our job under the Act to investigateany reported cases of neglect and intervene accordingly.”