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Authors: Barry Jonsberg

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BOOK: Ironbark
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Barry Jonsberg lives in Darwin, Australia. His first novel for young adults,
The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pitbull
, was short-listed for the Children's Book Council Book of the Year, Older Readers, in 2005.

In 2006, its follow-up,
It's Not All About YOU, Calma!
was short-listed for the CBCA awards, and won the Adelaide Festival Award for Children's Literature.

His third novel,
, was short-listed in the NSW Premier's Awards for the Ethel Turner prize in 2007.

Barry Jonsberg's books have been published in ten countries and translated into five languages.
is his fourth novel for young adults.



‘This is the best teen fiction I have read in years.'

The Age

‘An inspiring debut novel: simultaneously funny and wise. A+.'

Tony Wilson

, C

‘. . . a refreshing, gently layered novel [with] irreverence, pace,
unselfconscious character and masterful use of language.'

Reading Time

‘Entertaining and thoroughly rewarding . . . Highly recommended.'

Australian Bookseller & Publisher


‘Barry Jonsberg just keeps getting better and better.'

Sydney Morning Herald

is demanding, intense and is recommended for secondary students.'



Barry Jonsberg

First published in 2008

Copyright © Barry Jonsberg 2008

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the publisher. The
Australian Copyright Act 1968
(the Act) allows a maximum of one chapter or ten per cent of this book, whichever is the greater, to be photocopied by any educational institution for its educational purposes provided that the educational institution (or body that administers it) has given a remuneration notice to Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) under the Act.

Allen & Unwin
83 Alexander Street
Crows Nest NSW 2065
Phone: (61 2) 8425 0100
Fax: (61 2) 9906 2218
Email: [email protected]

National Library of Australia
Cataloguing-in-Publication entry:
Jonsberg, Barry, 1951– .
ISBN 978 1 74114 9555
I. Title.
Design by Ellie Exarchos
Set in 10.7/16 Apollo by Midland Typesetters, Australia
Printed by McPherson's Printing Group

10  9  8  7  6  5  4  3  2  1

Notes for teachers are available from

For Vonni and Arne

I'm miserable and sixteen. In that order.

We are taking the night ferry and Bass Strait is cutting up rough. So is Dad. He can't get a cabin at short notice. He asks at the ticket office and some dude with bad hair and a goatee gives him the flick. Absolutely guaranteed to rattle Dad's cage, big time. Rejection doesn't figure on his radar unless he's dishing it out.

So once we're on the boat, he corners a guy in a white suit trimmed with fancy braid at regular intervals. Dad gives him the full finger-wagging routine: the I've-got-an-Armani-suit-and-you're-a-piece-of-excrement-in-fancy-dress treatment. Maybe he's hoping the guy'll evict a couple of random tourists or build an extension. Whatever. He gets the brush-off there, as well.

Normally I'd laugh, but I'm too depressed.

So we sit in reclining seats that don't recline and I concentrate on keeping the contents of my stomach safe. At around three in the morning, I get an urge to spew – preferably all over Dad's suit – but I can't be bothered. I doze instead.

When we land, the world feels like it's still rocking. We drive in silence. Not one of those silences like the ones in old movies where they glance at each other periodically with warm, companionable smiles, but the kind tinged around the edges with conflict. So I plug in my iPod, crank it up loud and watch the Tasmanian scenery unroll. In about thirty seconds we've left the town behind. They've got car parks in Melbourne that are bigger than this fleapit. And then we're on a country road, deserted except for the odd Kombi van every twenty minutes. It looks to me like it's the
Kombi van. After a while, I'm glad to see it. A welcome break from trees.

There are trees everywhere. I never knew there were so many trees in the world. There probably
that many trees in the world. I reckon it's a special effect.

For nearly two hours Dad swings around hairpin bends like he's been doing it all his life. We climb one mountain after another, along roads that switch back on themselves so alarmingly I worry we're going to disappear up our own bum-holes. Eventually, he sweeps onto a dirt track that stretches forever, followed by a clearing, two run-down shacks, a barking dog and a wrinkled dude sitting on a battered chair. Dad pulls up in a cloud of grey dust and waits for it to settle. The dog barks. The wrinkled dude sits. When Dad decides it's safe to expose his threads to the Tasmanian air he gets out, brushing imaginary specks from his suit.

The dog barks. The old guy sits.

Dad stands beside the car, as inconspicuous as poo in a punch bowl. I get my gear from the boot. No one says anything. Finally, the dog loses interest, plops its sorry backside under the old dude's chair and falls asleep. Most excitement for a decade, I reckon. Then Dad – I swear to God – nods at the ancient geezer and the ancient geezer nods back. I splutter laughing and that wakes the dog up. Briefly. I tell ya. The suit and the antique specimen. I'm struck by a vague memory of someone on TV referring to their in-laws as ‘outlaws' and the canned laughter is way out of proportion. But for Dad and his father-in-law, right there in the middle of the Tasmanian forest, it's kinda appropriate.

They're a pair of tired outlaws, nodding at each other like macho losers.

I lug my bag over to the main shack and think about joining in with the general nodding. But I don't. Finally, Dad speaks. It's a relief to know someone can.

‘I appreciate it,' he says.

Granddad nods. Nodding is his strong suit.

‘Sure,' he says in a voice long past its use-by date.

‘I'll be off, then,' says Dad and we all go in for more nodding. Then he eases into the leather of the BMW and restarts the engine. The window purrs down and he gives me this serious look.

‘You know what you need to do,' he says. ‘I expect you to follow the program exactly. Do you understand?' I nod. It seems to be the custom in these parts. Then he's away, with a hint of wheel spin and another cloud of dust.

I stand for a while, watching the space he's left, listening to the silence descend.

Tasmania. Notorious for nature, wine, cheese and a history of housing the dregs of the criminal classes, the worst of the worst. A prison of sea and forest, crammed with pain and suffering. Not much has changed, I reckon.

I turn on my mobile, but there's no signal. Of course there isn't. For a moment I get a thrumming in my ears – the sound of blood pulsing round my system. This is great. Just great. I almost get the urge to laugh. Almost.

I've been here five seconds and it's a disaster already.

Once – and I don't know why; don't ask me – I watched this feeble reality TV show where a bunch of yuppies tried to live like nineteenth-century settlers. You know the routine: making shelters out of ironbark, stringy-bark, whatever-the-hell-sort-of-bark, starting fires by rubbing two wombats together, eating invertebrates, that kinda thing.

I'm living the nightmare.

For starters, there's no electricity. Well, not proper electricity. Granddad has rigged up solar panels and there's a tangle of wires ending in switches that look like they're recycled from car parts. Pushing in an old cigarette lighter gizmo sparks up a tiny fluoro light. But that's it. Not enough juice to power a proper appliance. No television, no stereo. Just an old radio that runs on batteries and that's as high-tech as it gets.

The water is brown. Apparently, it gets pumped from a nearby dam. I don't know how, with no electricity, but it dribbles from the taps and stains the chipped sink. There's an outside dunny with only two walls. You stand with your old fella in your hand and stare at the trees, hoping no one will stroll past. Unlikely. We are wedged firmly in the butt cheeks of the world. At least there is a cistern and it flushes the same brown water. The drinking stuff comes from a rainwater tank. It's reasonably clear and I can't actually
things swimming in it. I try not to think about the water running down rusted roofs, along guttering filled with possum droppings. I wonder what odds I'd get on the presence of filtering systems, but in the end I don't want to go there.

I've gone back in time. A hundred years. Minimum.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Like I say, I stand and listen as the forest swallows the sound of Dad's engine. Then it's as if he has never been. I turn towards the wrinkled dude on the chair. His eyes are fixed some place in the distance. Maybe some other time in the distance. I sit next to him. There's nothing else to do.

My grandfather. My jailer.

He's just another stranger with his own agenda.

‘So, what do you do for entertainment around here, Gramps?' I ask. A muscle twitches at the corner of his eye and I know he doesn't like being called ‘Gramps'. I file the information away.

‘Entertainment?' he says, rolling the word like it's in a foreign language. He turns his eyes towards me, all watery and flecked with red. Old man's eyes. I can tell he resents my presence and I've only been here six nanoseconds. It's like he's real reluctant to share his patch of bugger-all with anyone, let alone a sixteen-year-old from another planet. I wait, but he must've forgotten the question because he doesn't say anything else. I wasn't holding my breath for a sensible answer anyway.

BOOK: Ironbark
12.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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