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Book extract: Year of the Orphan

Books & Poetry

Maralinga in South Australia inspired the Mad Max-type outback landscape of writer and historian Daniel Findlay’s disturbing debut novel, set 500 years after a nuclear apocalypse.

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The tough young orphan of the title holds secrets about the destruction of the brutal and wasted world in which she lives, and the cause of the sickness that is taking hold, but she must decide if what’s left of humanity is worth saving.

Released this month, Year of the Orphan is described by publisher Penguin as a uniquely Australian take on the post-apocalyptic novel which reflects current environmental and political issues, while demonstrating the importance of learning from the past.

Findlay, editor-in-chief of Next Media’s youth portfolio, travelled to Maralinga as part of his research, with the setting reflecting actual remnants of the nuclear testing ground used by the British between 1956 and 1963.

He has created his own language for the book – a mixture of Australian slang, English, remnant words and other languages which is stripped of familiar punctuation.

 The following extract is from pages 28-32

****

That night she made the gates. The Watch so careless she was on them before they saw her, and her knocked about and stumblinin the dusk like a drunk. She couldnt look offcentre, any glance to the side made her bile rise and her head ring like a struck bell. The outerman were young, scraps of beard on his face and his pike too big for him. Always put the yungens on the outer.

Hold!

Shoutin out as he saw her too late. Panic turned to smirk when he saw she were human enough, alone, an a girl as well. He put his pike at portarms, werent no more than a pace from the walls an fellas probably had him covered by now. Blades an slings up, pretendin to earn their keep. She couldnt look to see. Far as he was gunna figger she werent nuthin more than a scav comin in from the wastes an a little worse for wear.

Open the gates. She was holdin her stomach down with evry word.

State yer name.

Nun of yer business.

You got a ship dontcha?

Yeah.

What you doin out there in the Glows?

Wasnt in the Glows.

Yeah you was. Wheres yer ship? What ya got onya?

 Still out there. An nuthin for ya.

He sucked his teeth at that, whistled his disapproval.

Toll.

Speak on it with the Block.

She saw him straighten up a bit at that. Could smell the rank smoke comin from the inside. Rubbish turnin to ash. Animal to meat. Same place for evrythin an evrywun.

Gotta pay the toll.

Mutterin to himself now.

Let me through an a ladll come by an fix it up later.

Yeah thatd be right.

But he was done arguin an so was she.

Open up.

Spose I will. This time.

He slouched to the drum an knocked a pattern, each wun makin her flinch. She heard the bolts and wood gettin drawn back an the small gate set inta the big wun swung open. She squeezed past  the outerman, waitin a moment  as the next blokes sized her up an opened the inside wall. They was older than the kid outside, an looked sharper. Coupla fellas strapped with parangs an hide. There was plenny of swagger but it werent much and she knew it. Plenny of things out there past the boundaries thatd walk through that wall no troubles an that werent even speakin on the Glows. The little wall kept em safe, if only in their heads. She’d been over and under and through it herself but not with her head in this state and not wantin to get a length of trackiron spear put through her lungs.

*

She cleared the second door an put her heels on packed System sand an she were inside. Waited till they was gone an then put her back against the wall real gentle an let it take her weight for a second, makin sure nowun could see the shake in her knees. In her coat was a bottle she hadnt left with an on the back of her head were a lump she dint put there herself. These were things she knew. Precious else to show for a long trip out and an even longer wun back. Come back a lot poorer than she went out. Might be she dint want to go see Block just yet, dint have much for him but a scare story and she werent sure she wanted to be tellin it. The lamps were all gettin lit an the smell of animal fat an oil wafted from the stalls an shacks of the outer circle, light gutterin as a chill breeze came across on the dirt an iron roofs. Moths an bugs was swirlin around the big fires burnin on the wall but she knew the blaze was for show. Werent actually any fellas tendin them, it were just another way of makin it seem safe. From where she stood she were near- exact between the Centre, Blocks place and the Old Mans digs. Course, he werent there now but the big steel boxes still was, them rooms was gunna outlive em all. Sumwun else standin on the same spot she got lashed. Strange fucken days. Dint matter though, she werent goin anywhere near that place, Blocks or the Centre. A few things to work out before that. Block were canny anyhows, she dint need to be announcin herself. His eyes was all over the place, prolly already knew she were back an travellin too light.

Even the glow from the lamps made the corner of her eyes ache. What she needed was a liedown and to get a billy on. What she needed was her own place, needed to head into the Stacks. She walked slow along the dusty street on the inside of the first circle. They was all circles, just wun, two, three, four and soon until you got to the middle and the inner split with the big cuts, the wider tracks that ran across the tarmac cross an tower that skewered the whole joint. The whole place wun big crushed circle. Gates, soaks an wells, a kay across maybe, an more an more an more people evrytime she came back inside. Evrywun sick. Evrywun always sick. Hardly saw any old folk no more. More an more was catchin sum kinda strange rot. Hair fallin out an teeth fallin outta rotten gums, just droppin in the sand. Stragglers from outside, comin in from other places she sposed. Boundaries werent what they was. Peeps dint often make much sense after theyd been outside for too long. Talked up all kinda beasts an whatnot. Scavs came back with plenny of stories about the Ghosts an the fella what walked with them, that bludy Reckoner. She  touched  the  tender  skin under the hair on the back of her head. Then there was the yungens, plenny more around than when she were a littlun but they was all weak. Plenny only fit for the Stacks she reckoned. Hard to believe but sum folks was puttin down roots. She werent sure about that, werent sure if roots was gunna hold in dust. She shrugged her coat higher up around her an took out her beanie, carefully slippin it onto her head an over her lump, tradin pain against the chill. Her bayonet an satch sat close to hand an most folks moved aside as she walked around the hook. She was goin a little out of her way to avoid havin to cross the Centre, was gunna have to zigzag a bit, but her eyes was strugglin and the light was that much worse where Karra an them cando peeps lived in the middle. Furthest from the walls, close to the deep well. Couldnt blame em, it were a good spot for most.

She made her way along, slippin the eyes of the hungry and the candos alike, fellas sparkin sumthin in the firelight, a hammer here and there and evrywhere scattered was shit and garbage, things waitin to get made into sumthin else. She reckoned her headache was gettin worse. Not many yungens on the cuts tonight, couple lads throwin lazy ciphers round the circle. She’d been out that game a while an sum. Their rhymes reached her ears an she stopped herself from listenin too hard, were an old habit an hard to kick.

*

By the time she’d crossed the System she were stumblin. The Stacksd climbed up an up an up above the ramshackle huts an scrap shacks made outta wire and drums an leavins from the scav piles, now they was loomin over her black like the great burned trees she’d run across now and then. The Stacks ran right up to the town an then spilled back into their own, the old water tower at the middle holdin it up or were it the other way around. As she got closer the light of the hooks an cuts at her back faded an by the time she stood facin the broken wall of tyres an could see the alleys an entrances disappearin into em it were like she was facin the deep dark all over again. Werent many fellas around but a lanky girl an boy stood backs to the stack, watchin her wary as snakes as she came up. The girl called out, uncoilin from her slouch, hands dug deep in the pockets of her too big overalls. You lost?

****

 Extract from Year of the Orphan, by Daniel Findlay, published by Bantam Australia, RRP $32.99.

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