Chapter Extract


PART ONE - Chapter One

The newborn foal contentedly suckled its mother. Peering into the stall, fourteen-year-old Lizzy Foster should have been bursting with happiness. Her two great passions in life were horses and singing. Three weeks ago she had been given the lead role in the end-of-year musical at her Catholic boarding school in Toowoomba, and now this perfect little creature had been born when she was home for the weekend on Kinmalley, the family wheat and sheep property in Queensland’s Darling Downs. Yet on this crisp early September morning the one thought Lizzy kept going over and over was that there was no way she could tell her father about her singing role.

The sweet scent of fresh hay filled the big barn. Beside her, saddled and groomed, Woeful, Lizzy’s twelve year old mare waited patiently, nibbling occasionally at her shoulder and blowing down the back of her T-shirt. In the next stall Lizzy could hear her best friend, Marcia Pearce who was staying for the weekend, humming the opening chorus of

Okalahoma!as she clattered about saddling up Misty. Marcia’s parents owned Four Pines an hour or so’s drive away, where they bred fat lambs for meat.

Mucking out the stables and exercising the horses were activities Lizzy eagerly looked forward to, but today her dark eyes were clouded with worry. Sighing deeply, one hand fiddling with the silver medallion around her neck, a present from her father on her 6th birthday, she turned and laid her cheek against Woeful’s warm brown coat, trying to figure a way out of the mess she had got herself into.

Woeful it was. She should have never have accepted the role. Kidding herself she could win her father over by waiting until the dress rehearsal had been madness. Trouble was, it wasn’t just that Lizzy had accepted the part. Dan Foster believed his daughter was singing in a church service. It had been hard enough to get him to agree to her singing at all. If he found out that she had deceived him he was just as likely, with his Irish temper, to pull her out of school altogether. She tried to ignore the sickening sensation in her stomach knowing she had to tell him she was taking part in a musical with all the colour, dancing and noise that she knew he detested. Yet once he had loved them. How could she make him understand that when the female lead singer had dropped out and darling Sister Angelica had offered her the part with so much excitement and enthusiasm, she just hadn’t been able to say no? Worse, for the last three weekends, she had been staying with Marcia to hide her activities, eking out the delicious stolen time, losing herself in the music while she worked out how to win her father over.

Last night the timing had been perfect. Relaxing on the wide veranda before dinner with ‘the boys’, Lizzy’s twenty-two year old cousin, Bob, and Ken the 38 year old rodeo rider and rouseabout, who had given her Woeful, Dan Foster had been in one of the happiest moods Lizzy had seen for ages. Stretched out beside him lay his two hardworking kelpies, Ned and six month old Gyp. Taking a long pull from his bottle of beer, he had scratched Ned’s belly and announced the finally the bumper crop was almost all in. By the following day they’d be finished harvesting, the wheat safely stored in the silos in town, easily beating the predicted storms. It had been the start of a great evening and with Marcia there to back her up Lizzy had really believed she stood a chance. Then the foal decided to arrive and Lizzy’s chance had vanished.

Nature had been generous to Lizzy Foster. Burnished lights gleamed in her freshly washed jet black hair. Luscious dark lashes fringed her large almond shaped eyes, above high cheekbones and a wide mouth. Most people still thought of her as a tomboy, yet behind her larrikin behaviour was emerging a sensuous young woman. While still shedding her puppy fat, there was a voluptuousness about Lizzy that hinted of pleasures to come. Her smooth skin tanned almost black, added to her beauty and her naturally rhythmic movements and musical aptitude, both inherited from her Polynesian grandmother, gave her an air of mystery. A mixture of fire and ice, Lizzy knew the only way out of her present trouble was to smother the passion that burned within her, accept the outcome and wait. She had tasted life on the stage. That was a start.

Lizzy had been eight when her mother had walked out on them. She remembered it was a Wednesday. She vaguely remembered the darkly handsome man with the deep baritone voice, who had come to town with a travelling show, and who made her father angry. Before the man, Dad used to love listening to Lizzy and her mother sing.

It was her mother who had given Lizzy her love of the stage, and who had filled her head with dreams of great shows in far off places, dreams that had never left her. She had told Lizzy how her grandmother had been a Polynesian princess who had run away to sing and how music was in thier blood. In her soprano voice she had taught Lizzy all the songs she knew - songs from the old vaudeville shows, love songs, Polynesian folk songs - and they would sing and dance together, playing to imaginary audiences, her mother thumping out the beat on the old upright piano, or playing the scratched records on the old gramophone. Twirling around in her mother’s battered fancy hats and boa feathers, the two would run around the sofa, laughing and kicking up their legs. Once she took Lizzy to the natural amphitheatre on a neighbour’s property in the hills not far from Kinmalley and they had sung together, their voices carrying across the bush. It was a memory Lizzy cherished. Mostly her father just watched and clapped, but sometimes he’d join in singing in his tuneless drone, which made them laugh all the more. A big, loving man Dan Foster would then clasp his precious women to him and they would kiss and hug like the tight knit family Lizzy believed them to be. Then suddenly her mother was gone and there was just her and dad and a sadness that never left them but was never spoken about and dad had forbidden her to sing ever again.

When Lizzy had started at Saint Cecilia’s Convent School, Dan had been forced to capitulate. Sister Angelica had seen to that explaining patiently that as a condition of entry all the girls sang in the school choir. Afterwards on the way home he had said ‘never let me catch you doing any of that ‘theatre stuff’.’ God! how she hated those words. They were a jail sentence when song threatened to burst out of her at every turn. Sometimes she had felt she would suffocate at home for lack of singing.

While the loving easygoing man she remembered as a young child had vanished, she never questioned her father’s churlishness and bad temper because she loved him dearly and she knew he loved her too. Yet she longed for him to understand her passionate need to sing, that singing to her was like breathing and not to sing was not to breathe. Woeful, tired of standing still tossed her head jerking Lizzy back to the present.

‘You understand, don’t you, you beautiful creature.’ she murmured. Tucking her thick black hair back off her face, Lizzy jammed her wide akubra on her head, mounted Woeful and led her into the sunshine

‘OK Marcie, let’s get up to these bores and see what needs doing, before the storm comes through’ called Lizzy, smothering a yawn. No one had got much sleep the night before with the excitement of the new foal and Lizzy had been up again before dawn to prepare breakfast before Dan and the boys headed off to finish harvesting. Her father had asked her to check two of the bores that provided water for the two thousand head of sheep. It would take most of the morning but if they got a move on Lizzy reckoned they should still have time to have the picnic they had planned and beat the storm before Marcia’s brother arrived to take her home

‘What storm?’ scoffed Marcia trotting out on Misty, glancing around. Only a few harmless white fluffy clouds forming to the far west marred the perfect blue, yet both girls knew how fast storms could build across the Downs and the havoc they could wreak. ‘Right, I’m ready, what’s the wait?’ she said, comically wriggling her bottom into the saddle

‘Dad reckons the storm they’ve been promising all week’ll hit today.’ explained Lizzy, her earlier gloom starting to lift. A good head shorter, Marcia was the antithesis of Lizzy. Slim, blue eyed, her cropped mouse-brown hair tinged with the remains of a bright red tint, it was difficult to be dismal around Marcia. Turning Woeful’s head sLizzy urged the mare forwards. Then, saddlebags bulging, the two girls set off at a smart pace across the paddock.

Reaching the stubble paddock they nudged the horses into a canter and sped along the dirt track at the edge of the sun drenched paddocks, the crisp breeze bringing a rosy flush to their cheeks. Small bundles of tumble weed ran along beside them, a flock of long beaked ibises soared from nowhere circling in the rising wind currents, turning and gliding against the cobalt sky. Feeling the rhythm of Woeful’s powerful body under her, catching the familiar country smells, and with the vast undulating, countryside stretching before her, Lizzy’s usual exhilaration returned. Out here she could sing to her heart’s content, with only the birds, the kangaroos and the wind to hear her and no one to stop her or tell her to stop dreaming. Here the world seemed to go on for ever. Here everything was possible, Out here she really believed dreams could come true.

‘Beat you to the gate.’ she shouted to Marcia, digging her heels into Woeful’s flanks, her eyes full of fire.

Anne McCullagh Rennie 2013