Walking the track home in the afternoon, Mick’s skinny shoulders ached under the weight of his school bag. His Volleys kicked up the dirt into a smoky dust as he made his way down the steep creek bed. It used to be full, but three years into a drought there was nothing left but a putrid puddle of muddy water and white-clean animal bones. At the other side of the creek, he stopped for a moment, a flash of fur in the trees ahead. But he shook his head and kept on walking, stewing over the day at school he had just had. 

His maths teacher was ready to give up on him altogether. It didn’t help that his classmates encouraged his defiance, fueling his desire to gain attention. Despite this Mick was lonely and didn’t have any close friends. The other students were far more concerned with themselves than with how the class clown got on outside of the classroom. 

Mick, however, was not self-aware enough to consider what motivated his behaviour. His only concern at that present moment was with his current conundrum. How was he going to explain to his parents that yet again, he had to skip bringing the cows in because of serving another after school detention. He had earnt this most recent detention fighting some of the bigger boys of grade eleven. Even now as he walked, the bruises on his arms had smarted and turned blue. Being in the meat of high school years, as a year nine student, sucked. 


His right cheek slammed into the ground as the rest of his body made impact with the cracked dusty clay. Great, now a black eye to go with the bruises. Must have tripped on my bloody laces.

He grit his teeth and lifted his head up from the ground as another pair of eyes met his.

Quizzical and deeply black, the beast tilts his head. His gaze moves from Mick’s messy hair to the blood dribbling from the cut on his bottom lip. It reaches out a paw towards the boy but Mick draws back and rapidly shuffles to his feet. The beast draws back in response, almost curling itself into a ball, never taking his eyes off his adversary.

‘What the heck is that?!’ Mick cried out, wiping the blood off his mouth with the back of his hand. He watched in curious horror as the creature stood on its hind legs and stretched as if it had just woken from a quick afternoon snooze. Probably no more than four feet high, the beast’s black-green mass of fur was broken up by thick orange stripes that stretched across its wide belly. 

‘I’m a Bunyip, you nitwit.’

Mick stifled a shriek.

The bunyip cackled like a kookaburra.

What did Bunyips eat? Mick wasn’t sure. Only moments before Bunyips were simply a mythical legend, not a smelly, hairy reality that stood and spoke before him. Mick scrunched his nose at the wet-dog odour that emanated from the creature’s body. 

‘You don’t smell particularly nice yourself,’ the Bunyip gruffly replied to Mick’s disgust. 

‘Wh- what are you doing here?’ Mick asked, clenching his fists till they were white.

‘I live here.’ 


The Bunyip grinned slyly, letting the left corner of his mouth open enough for a thin sharp tooth to appear.

‘You don’t really know much about us, do you?.’

‘You live in billabongs?.’

‘Ha! Used to. Hasn’t rained in three summers.’

‘I know.’

‘No you don’t! Your house stays whether it rains or shines. My house always needs to be wet.’

Mick shuffled his shoes in the dirt underneath him. It has been a long three years. Mick couldn’t remember what rain even smelt like. 

‘You can help me get my home back though.’

Mick’s eyes widened as he raised his eyebrows.

 ‘A Bunyip only appears when a visitor to their billabong is deeply troubled and needs their help . . .’

‘I’m not troubled! I don’t need you!’ Mick protested.

The bunyip glared back at the boy.

‘But if I help you then the rain might come.’

‘Huh, right, the rain might come’ Mick taunted the Bunyip.

The Bunyip’s eyes gleamed, ‘You’ll see.’

‘I’m late getting back home.’

He walked past the Bunyip. I must be dreaming. But he could’ve sworn he heard the beast say to his back ‘see you tomorrow!’. However, he quickly forgot all about the Bunyip when he got home. His parents were so furious and exhausted that they didn’t say a word at all through dinner. Mick wasn’t going to get out of this one easy. 


The final lesson of the day was again, maths. Outside the classroom the wind spewed across the empty playground little rocks that pinged off the classroom windows. Mick hoped this was a greater sign that finally there was a rain storm coming. But the sky was still clear. 


A scrunched piece of paper bounced off the side of Mick’s forehead. The sounds of classroom chatter, scratching pens and fingers tapping on desks surrounded him once again. He looked up, meeting his teacher’s glowering stare. His teacher must have asked one of the boys to get his attention. He sighed with despair and continued with the lesson, turning back to the equation on the whiteboard.

Mick’s classmates giggled, especially the two larger boys sitting in the back row behind him, Jack and Andy. 

Mick hadn’t slept well that night and had no energy left to be his usual attention seeking self. It was then that he noticed a familiar coloured fur poking out from the top drawer in the teacher’s desk.

How did it get in here?.

Mick felt the hairs on the back of his head start to rise as the drawer began to rattle.

Whap! Another scrunched up piece of paper bounces off Mick’s head. His teacher pushed his glasses up his nose, shaking his head again. The giggles from his classmates were getting louder. Jack gestured to Andy next to him and then back to Mick. But Mick hadn’t noticed, as he was madly scribbling in his book, glancing up at every moment he could to check on the drawer. 

‘Hey Bluey!’ Jack called out. The class was quiet, the teacher seemingly preoccupied with the solution to the equation on the board. Mick instinctively touched his red hair. He hated that nickname. 

He didn’t respond, which only riled up Jack even more. 

‘You know, the year eleven guys are going to find ya after school today?.’ Most of the class had put down their pens to watch. ‘What are ya going to do about it?.’

Mick, to his detriment, hadn’t heard a word. His eyes were widening in fright as he fixated on the drawer that was now opening gradually, like in slow-motion.

A sweaty hand grabbed Mick’s shoulder, making him jump out of his skin and look up into Jack’s face. 

‘You know if you’re worried, I can give you some practice’ Jack offered menacingly.

‘Practice for wha-.’

A couple of the girls screamed whilst the rest of the class gasped. Mick turned back to look at the front of the class in horror as the Bunyip stood upon the top of the teacher’s desk, arms folded, glaring at the class. This is also when he noticed that the teacher’s arm that was lifted to write up on the board was stiff and unmoving. 

‘Sir!’ someone cried out.

The teacher didn’t respond. He was frozen in time, like a statue – his back to the class and his face to the board.

‘He can’t hear you,’ the bunyip responded, matter-of-factly ‘but don’t worry it’s only temporary.’

Students were now slowly climbing out of their seats and making their way to the back of the classroom. Jack remained with his hand gripping Mick’s shoulder tightly.

‘So, your name is Bluey . . .’

‘Get off me,’ Mick snapped out of his seat, slapping Jack’s hand off his shoulder and turned to yell at the Bunyip ‘don’t call me that!.’

‘Seems like you do need some help’ the Bunyip sniggered, Mick fuming.

‘What the hell is going on?’ Jack finally managed to spit out of his quivering mouth. 

The Bunyip grinned before he replied ‘It’s time I got my billabong back.’

‘Your what?.’

The Bunyip leapt off the desk and walked towards the two boys. His wide feet thumped against the thin worn carpet, his nails like cat claws scraping the occasional tuft out from underneath.

‘You,’ he pointed to Jack and then to Andy ‘are going to leave Bluey alone.’

Mick’s jaw dropped.

‘And you all can’t just sit back and laugh and think you have no part of it’ the Bunyip then waved his paw at the rest of the class as some of the other students clutched each other closer.

‘Or what?!’ Andy squeaked from behind Jack.

The Bunyip bared his teeth in a menacing grin and let out a guttural growl that shook the tables, chairs and windows.

‘Cheers Bunyip’ Mick thanked the beast, grinning at the rest of his classmates cowering in fear.

‘Don’t mention it, literally’ the Bunyip replied then disappeared outside through an open window.

The class scrambled from one end of the classroom to another, but the Bunyip had, for lack of better words, vanished into thin air. No trace of any of the bright orange stripes and shiny black fur in any of the trees out-skirting the playground.

‘What are you all doing out of your seats?.’

The entire class whipped their heads around in unison as their teacher stood with hands on his hips, completely oblivious to what had just happened.

‘Nothing sir’ Mick, Jack and Andy half-shouted back in reply.

The teacher took a step towards the windows to investigate and at the very same moment the first break of thunder rattled the small town. Now everyone was squealing, glueing their faces to the glass and hanging their heads out the window at the grey-green sky. As the thunder began to roll like a big drum the teacher gave up and shouted, ‘let’s go!’ to his class, as chairs and tables tumbled out of the way of the stampeding students. 

The rest of the school was emptying into the playground, students and teachers alike holding out their hands under the now black sky. In all the chaos, Mick hadn’t noticed the year eleven boys raising their heads above the crowd to search for him.

‘There he is!’ one of them shouted.

Mick looked from side to side, arms outstretched, searching for an escape.

‘You want to go for round two, Bluey?.’

Just as Mick clenched his fists at his sides, ready to defend himself, lightning flashed across the horizon. Its electric white lit up against the sky as the school cheered and the first, big, fat drops of precious water slapped the dust on the ground at their feet.

Mick braced himself to face the others but when he looked back down they were gone. He glanced around in panic as the year eleven boys instead were embracing each other and dancing along in celebration with everyone else. It was as if they had completely forgotten about him. The hairs on the back of Mick’s neck began to raise as he turned and watched the Bunyip scurry back into the bush from the playground on all fours. The Bunyip turned, giving him a final look and a wink before disappearing again for good. 

‘Thanks again’ the boy shouted back at the Bunyip, not even sure that it could hear him over the joyous raucous. Students began to grab handfuls of mud from the ground and slap it onto each other’s backs. Mick felt the mud’s cool wetness against his own as he turned to meet Jack and Andy’s grins. 

‘Pretty weird pet you’ve got mate’ Jack said.

‘What did you call it again? A bunyip?’ Andy asked.

Mick grinned at the two, putting his hands on either one’s shoulders and said, ‘Let me tell you a story . . .’

Sue-Ella Bailey is currently a third year student studying a Bachelor of Arts with Secondary Education. She’s passionate about nurturing the storytellers of the future and giving teens a voice through their writing. Drawn to Australian historical fiction, you’ll mostly find her on a beach, writing a story at sunrise.

Lansdowne, David Nolan

In hindsight, it was a strange way to live. At the time, everything was a little bit odd to me out there so I didn’t think anything of it. My grandparents never made an issue of it, so I figured that’s just the way it was.

I was staying with my grandparents in a small town by the name of Chesterfield. I spent much of my school holidays out there. The first time I went I had no idea what to expect; I hadn’t seen my grandparents in years. Fortunately, they both knew what to expect with me and had plenty of books for me to read with them and talk about.

Chesterfield was essentially there to cater for the surrounding farms. There was a schoolhouse for the local kids, a single-person police station and my grandparents’ corner shop, with about fifty houses spread out over the rest of the town. There were more tractors and 4WDs than any other kind of vehicle, with most people using a horse or bicycle to get around when they had to.

The townspeople and the surrounding district would get their supplies from my grandparents’ corner shop. Each person would have a particular product that they’d need for their crops, horse or dirt bike and my grandparents would remember each and every one. It was while helping out in their shop that I met Hank.

The first time Hank came into the store, I wasn’t sure what to make of him. He pushed in his rusted trolley (with only three working wheels) and asked for ‘the usual, thanks, champ.’

As a nine-year old who had no idea who he was, my eyes went wide hoping that one of my grandparents would come back out front before he asked again. Thankfully, my grandfather unknowingly fulfilled my wish by coming out and getting Hank what he needed. When my grandfather introduced us, Hank noted that I looked just like my grandfather. I must have reacted noticeably as they both laughed.

My grandfather loaded up Hank’s trolley, but Hank didn’t take it with him. Instead, after paying with cash he got out of a freshly opened envelope, he left his loaded trolley in the shop and wandered back out. I wasn’t sure what to make of Hank or the pile of cans he left behind in his trolley.

When I woke up the next morning, the trolley had gone. After my grandmother confirmed that Hank had taken it home that morning, I asked her about him. She explained that he was ‘just a silly old man. He never really got used to normal life after the war. Shame, because he has quite the head on his shoulders.’ This confused me at the time, although it made perfect sense after I got to know him.

I asked my grandmother why he left his trolley behind. She explained, ‘He lives in Lansdowne, down the road. He wheels his trolley up when he gets his pension, buys the food he needs, then spends the rest at the pub and wheels it back in the morning.’

I’d never been to Lansdowne. No one had apart from Hank, since the mine fire forced the town to evacuate. Chesterfield was, in a way, built as Lansdowne’s replacement. Hank was the only person who moved back to Lansdowne when the town was declared safe and he remained its only citizen.

It wasn’t until a year after my first encounter with Hank that I finally did make the walk down the road to Lansdowne. Hank had had to have surgery on his knees and wasn’t able to make his weekly trip up to Chesterfield. My grandparents sent me with a trolley and mobile phone to take Hank’s supplies out to him.

An hour and a half of walking down the highway with nothing around but flat fields dotted with the occasional flame tree and I arrived in Lansdowne. It had never been a large town, only having around 100 residents when it was evacuated, and only half of them had lived in what could actually be called “the town”. The centre of Lansdowne was made up of two dozen houses, what used to be the shop/post office/police station and a ‘schoolhouse’ that only looked like a regular house if not for the ‘School’ sign out the front.

Looking around Lansdowne, I realised I had no idea which house was Hank’s. Some of the buildings had large chalk X’s on their front door. I was wondering what they were for when I heard a door open. I looked down the street toward the noise and watched Hank hobble out onto the veranda of one of the houses and wave me over. That saved me knocking on every door.

As I approached his house, Hank hopped down the stairs with a crutch under his right arm. I could see the bandages from his operation wrapped around his knee. He gave me a broad smile and picked up a couple of cans out of the trolley, reading the labels in satisfaction.
‘You deserve a drink after that long walk,’ Hank said to me as he nodded towards his house. Together we lifted the trolley up the stairs and through the front door. He told me to sit in a chair just inside the door while he wheeled the trolley into a different room, carefully avoiding putting any weight on the bandaged leg.

The room I was in seemed to be the main living space, with three old sofa seats and a tea table in the middle, all arranged to focus on the fireplace in the corner. The wallpaper was faded; it might have been bright blue once but now was a grey almost ashen colour. I began to suspect it actually was ash when I sniffed the air.

The room was filled with two things: empty food cans and books. The empty cans were mostly in piles in the corners and out of the way. The books, however, were all over the place. The tea table had at least thirty on it; the other chairs were in a similar state. The chair I walked to was the least covered: it only had ten books on it.

I picked up some of the books and read the covers. It was a broad mix of subjects and genres: Frankenstein, For Whom The Bell Tolls and Diary of Samuel Pepys. I’d read none of them before and hadn’t heard of many of them. They were all older copies, their spines held together by single threads in some cases. They smelt old too; many different hands had turned their pages.

‘You a reader there, champ?’ The voice made me jump. Luckily I didn’t drop any of the books but put them down gently before I turned to answer that I was indeed a keen reader.

Hank smiled. He hobbled over to the table and set down a glass full of lemonade for me. He sat down in one of the other chairs with a sigh of relief, carefully avoiding sitting on any of the books.

As he scratched his bandage, he told me, ‘I’ve talked to your grandparents about you. They told me about your love of reading. I wanted to introduce you to my collection.’ He gestured to the piles scattered about the room.

I picked up the glass of lemonade and took a sip. Hank gestured for me to sit, which I did although only on the edge of the chair as I still hadn’t moved any books off it. ‘It’s an impressive collection,’ I said, unsure of myself.

‘Is this what you do all day?’ I realised the almost-rudeness of the question only after I said it.

Fortunately, Hank saw the question as intended. He answered, ‘For the most part. I have always been an avid reader, and now that I live here alone, I indulge my lifelong hobby and read all my favourites and the classics I never got to.’

By this time, I had learnt that asking personal questions could be considered inconsiderate, but I was also too curious to not ask questions when I had one I wanted to ask. So I asked Hank, ‘Why do you live here alone?’

Hank smiled grimly and sighed ever so slightly. ‘Because of some mistakes I made that I couldn’t fix.’ He leant forward with his elbows resting on his knees and he rubbed his unshaven face. I was worried that I had hurt him by asking but he seemed to make peace with the story as he began, ‘When I came back from the war, I had experienced some things.’ He spoke slowly and carefully chose each word, being very aware that I was still a kid. ‘These things stuck with me, they call it post-traumatic stress disorder now, but back then the closest thing they had was shellshock or battle fatigue.’

I thought to myself that this must have been what my grandmother was referring to when she told me about Hank. I wondered how much she knew of Hank’s life story.

Hank continued, ‘I found myself trying to deal with my condition while also trying to get into the workforce. There were a lot of former soldiers trying to find work back then. I was lucky; I found a job working in a steel mill. Hard work, it was, but simple enough. It was not long after that I met my wife, Sally.’

I noticed Hank got a little smile in the corner of his mouth as he remembered meeting Sally. I could also see the tears in his eyes, reminding me that something must have happened for him to end up alone in Lansdowne. I wanted to stop him from crying so I butted in, ‘Was she pretty?’

That made Hank laugh softly and smile. ‘Yes she was: blonde hair, bright eyes, and the sort of smile that made everyone around her want to smile too. She was also quick-witted and knowledgeable.’ Hank sighed again. ‘She really was just about the perfect girl.’

There was a long pause as Hank tried to gather himself and I thought about the idea of the ‘perfect girl’ and whether I’d ever get to be that to someone. I wasn’t all that fond of myself at that stage so the idea of someone else being so attached to me seemed unbelievable. Hank rubbed his mouth again. ‘Here is something very important for you to learn now: you treat your people right. You hear me?’

I was kind of thrown by the way he suddenly got worked up, but I understood the sentiment so I nodded quickly.

Hank nodded back at me. ‘See, that was my problem. Well, one of them. I just didn’t know how to treat my people right. You have to be honest with yourself, first. From what I hear though, you know how to do that.’

I felt myself shrink back into my chair. I wished my family wouldn’t share my secrets with other people. They keep calling me brave; I’m just trying to feel comfortable and live. I remember that being a consistent theme in my thoughts back then.

Hank tried to put me at ease. ‘Yeah, your grandparents told me about you. Don’t worry. We’re different, we need to support one another.’ He breathed in deeply as he looked around, and it seemed more like he was surveying his domain than just the room. ‘I’ve found something resembling a place of my own; I’m sure you will too. Hopefully it’s a lot more populated and welcoming than my little corner of the world. I think that would suit you more.’

I rubbed my hands in the nervous way I did when I didn’t know what to say or do next. Hank was still staring into space with a sad smile on his face. Wanting to stop the silence, I asked him, ‘So is this your whole collection?’

‘No, not by a long shot,’ Hank answered with a slight laugh. He pulled himself up onto his crutch again. ‘These are just the ones I’m up to right now. I keep a few hundred in whatever house I’m living in and keep the rest in the other houses.’

‘The other houses? All of them?’ It didn’t seem real for someone to do such a thing.

Hank nodded. He moved over to an opening next to the front door and went through. I followed him and came into a stuffy room filled with even more books, although this one was more ordered, with the books arranged on bookshelves.

Hank stood at one of them and started looking through the shelves. ‘I have the other houses arranged like this. Except for the ones I’ve already lived in. Those are filled with empty cans. Don’t go in any of the buildings marked with an X.

I nodded, only half listening to what he was saying because I was too caught up in seeing what books were there. The Picture of Dorian Gray, Gilgamesh and The Once and Future King are the ones that I remember noticing, mostly because those are the titles that stuck out at me at the time.

I heard Hank pull some books off the shelf as he said, ‘Here we are. These should suit you nicely.’ He moved over to me and handed me four large books. I looked at the top book and saw The Hobbit was its title and there was a drawing of a dragon snaked across the bottom. Flicking through the pile, I saw the other three books were The Lord of the Rings.

‘Those there are what started my love of reading about, oh, 50 years ago,’ Hank told me. ‘I think you’ll enjoy them.’

I looked up at Hank and thanked him profusely. He just waved it off and walked me out to the kitchen. I helped him unload his cans and put the books he had given me in the trolley. Hank walked me out to the street and saw me off. The trip back to Chesterfield was much easier than the trip out to Lansdowne; with my new books to look forward to, I was also much quicker.

Over the next ten years, Hank and I continued and developed our friendship. Whenever I went up to Chesterfield to visit my grandparents, I would also make the walk out to Lansdowne to see how Hank was getting along. We would talk about books and my life back home. He would provide great advice on just any about topic I asked him about. He even supported me through my transition, even as I lost some friends who wouldn’t deal with it. It was partly thanks to him that I worked up the courage to start the process. Once I started university, I couldn’t make the trip out as often as I’d have liked as I had study, work and a romance to maintain at home. But, no matter if it had been a year or more between visits, we could still talk freely.

Hank died last month. I made the trip out to Chesterfield to visit his grave with my boyfriend. I didn’t realise how sad I was until I saw the words written on his headstone. He didn’t leave me without saying goodbye though, his collection of books was left to me along with a parting message: ‘Audrey, you’ve been a friend. You treated me right. Thank you. You’ll live a good life as a good person. I’m sorry I never got to meet your man. You are his perfect girl now.’

Walking back to the car, I had to lean heavily on my boyfriend as my knees refused to hold me up properly. As he drove, I stared out the window in the direction of Lansdowne and thought of Hank, my friend, and his little corner of the world.


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