John Marsden's writing style is very accessible and easy to read.
The quotes below are intended to give you a sense of what you will
find in this series and help you decide if it is something you would
like to read. As this page is intended for people who have not
read the books, quotes that give away the plot have been avoided.
Unfortunately that means that the two extremely powerful scenes are
unavailable, but I think those included below will give you a sense
of what you will find within the pages of "Tomorrow, When
the War began" and its sequels.
The "Tomorrow" series is quite densely written, while
each book is generally only 250 - 300 pages long a lot happens on
each page. This is an action/adventure series and suspense,
violence (sometimes quite gruesome), chases
and evasions make up large sections of the
books. These are nicely written and work well but the real power
of the books are how John Marsden brings his characters to life.
These perfectly ordinary teenagers, who could be any of us, have
had their entire world destroyed. They are profoundly affected but
they also continue to live, grow and experience. They have to decide
for themselves what is right and wrong. They
react to what is happening, to what they
have done. They worry about what this is
doing to them but they go on. They take refuge
in their memories of a world lost and in doing so they remind
us of how used to our little luxuries we
have become. Out on the cutting edge of resistance, with no-one
to turn too for moral support, they start to be overwhelmed by what
is happening, they start to be consumed by it.
Yet while their world view has moved so much that they see death
as better than capture and their only real
choice as to how they die they still find time to play
with a wombat, they are still moved by
the environment they are living in, they still support
and care about each other. Even when they are so far gone they
kill for thrills they still reach
out to each other as they walk into history in "The
Other Side of Dawn".
I found these books surprisingly powerful, the characters reached
out and grabbed me, their situation affected me more than I could
have imagined when I started the novels. Some of this is because
it is my country that is being destroyed, but it could equally be
yours. The characters could be you or me, our friends, our children.
They are believable; they are very human and while they are profoundly
changed by what they experience, each character stays recognisable
to the end.
Take a look at the above quotes (click the links to jump or just
scroll further down the page), grab a copy
of "Tomorrow, When the War Began" and see if
Ellie speaks to you. If she does, you are in for a fascinating journey
with people who will become friends.
Quotes used with permission
There are lots of moments of suspense in these novels, this is
one of the early ones:
"I wanted to open the door, but I couldn't figure out
how to do it without making a sound. I tried to recall some scenes
in movies where the heroes had been in this situation, but I couldn't
think of any. In the movies they always seemed to kick the door
down and burst through with guns drawn. There were at least two
reasons we couldn't do that. One, it was noisy; two, we didn't have
I sidled closer to the door and
stood in an awkward position, pressed backwards against the wall
and trying to open the door with my left hand. I couldn't get enough
leverage however, so instead turned and crouched, reaching up with
my right hand to grip the knob. It turned silently and smoothly
but my nerve failed me for a moment and I paused, holding the knob
in that cocked position. Then I pulled it towards me, a little too
hard, because I had half expected it to be locked. It came about
thirty centimetres, with the screech of a tortured soul, Homer was
behind me, so I could no longer see him, but I heard, and could
feel, his breath hang in the air and his body rise a little. How
I wished for an oilcan. I waited, then decided there was no point
in waiting, so I pulled the door open another metre. I rasped every
centimetre of the way. I was feeling sick but I stood and took three
slow careful steps into the darkness. I waited there, hoping my
eyes would adjust and I'd be able to make some sense of the dull
shapes I could see in front of me. There was a movement of air behind
me as Homer came in too: at least, I hoped it was Homer. At the
thought that it might be anyone else I felt such a violent moment
of panic that I had to give myself a serious talk about self-control.
But my nerves sent me forward another couple of steps, till my knee
bumped into some kind of soft chair. At that moment I heard a scrape
from the next room, as though someone had pushed back a wooden chair
on a wooden floor. I tried desperately to think of what was in the
next room and what it looked like, but my mind was too tired for
that kind of work. So instead I tried to tell myself that it hadn't
been the scrape of a chair, that no one was there, that I was imaging
things. But then came the dreadful confirmation, the sound of a
creaking board and the soft treat of a foot.
I instinctively went to the floor,
quietly slipping down to the right, then wriggling around the soft
chair that I'd just been touching. Behind me I felt Homer doing
the same. I lay on the carpet. It smelt like straw, clean dry straw.
I could hear Homer shuffling around, sounding like and old dog trying
to get comfortable. I was shocked at how much noise he was making.
Didn't he realise? But in front of me came another noise: the unmistakable
sound of a bolt being drawn back in a breech, then slid forward
to cock the rifle.
'Robyn!' I screamed."
Immediate action is required and Ellie responds:
"I'll never forget the next minute. The image I most remember
is the first view I had of the soldiers and my friends. They were
all gathered around the creek in a little cleared area. They looked
like they were having a meeting. There were three soldiers, all
men and all on my side of the creek. Two were standing to my left,
the other on my right. They looked tense but excited, very happy
with themselves. The two on the left held rifles, but the one on
the right, who was an officer, seemed unarmed. I guess it was his
(pistol) that I carried.
I could still smell a trace of
gunpowder in the air but none of my friends seemed hurt. They were
standing in a line on a big flat rock, across the other side of
the shallow gurgling creek. Their hands were on their heads. Fi
was white and trembling uncontrollably; Robyn had her chin out,
defiantly; Lee's face was totally expressionless. Homer looked desperate,
thin and tired, with his dark eyes sunk deep into his face. But
I was so relieved to see him at all: I'd had the worst fears about
what might have happened to him.
Kevin was standing a little apart
from the others and he looked absolutely terrified.
I didn't even think about what
to do. It was a relief, not to have to think: for once the choice
was made for me. I stood very still, feet well apart, lifted the
(pistol), held it with both hands, aimed carefully at the chest
of the first soldier, and squeezed the trigger. Gently, gently,
squeeze, squeeze. I thought it would never fire, it took so long.
Then the bang, the explosion, the smoke, the smell. The gun kicked
up hard, like it had been given a jolt of electricity, and the empty
shell shot out, to my right. I saw the soldier go staggering backwards,
dropping his rifle, his hands to his chest as though trying - unsuccessfully
- to hold himself together. But I had no time to think about him.
I aimed and fired again: shot the second one before he had his rifle
halfway to his shoulder.
Then I turned to the officer.
He was facing me now. He didn't seem to know where to go. I fired
the third time. My hands were shaking badly and the bullet went
a little low. The slide locked back; the gun was empty; useless
scrap metal. I threw it away quickly, as if contaminated. It fell
in the creek.
It had all been very quick, kind
of clinical, not at all like our other killing had been. Just popping
down targets, with no emotion.
Or maybe that was just a measure
of how much I'd changed"
Severely outnumbered and outgunned, the characters often have to
run for it. Nail biting, these accounts often go on for pages, here
is a snippet from one such evasion. They are hiding in the treetops
(wearing full packs) as troops search for them. They have been up
the trees for some time now, and a command post has been set up
at the base of the tree Ellie is in. She is about 15 metres up (around
" I wanted badly to move but it
looked like being a long time before I could.
I hadn't been right about many
things that day but I was right about that. I'd say it was three
hours before I got a chance to move. The officer walked out of my
sight a few times, but I didn't dare move then because, for all
I knew, he may have been standing on the other side of the tree
where I couldn't see the ground at all. The helicopter swept past
four more times, once very close again, the other times close enough.
Each time I flattened myself and shrank, like a rabbit when a hawk
The only nice thing that happened
was that the horses went past. I had time to look at them properly
now. There were seven of them, and they still seemed pretty relaxed
about what was happening in their home paddock. They looked well
cared for, too: carrying plenty of weight - too much - and with
their coats well brushed. They glowed, the way horse do when they're
in good nick. They stopped for a nibble occasionally but they were
Right and Wrong
Early on Ellie struggles with what is right and wrong. Eventually
this gets overwhelmed by the situation, the brutal struggle to survive
and the creeping insanity that overtakes them, but these questions
form an important and moving part of the early novels.
"I had blood on my hands, like the Hermit, and just as
I couldn't tell whether his actions were good or bad, so too I couldn't
tell what mine were. Had I killed out of love for my friends, as
part of a noble crusade to rescue friends and family and keep our
land free? Or had I killed because I valued my life above that of
others? Would it be OK for me to kill a dozen others to keep myself
alive? A hundred? A thousand? At what point did I condemn myself
to Hell, if I hadn't already done so? The Bible just said 'Thou
shalt not kill', then told hundreds of stories of people killing
each other and becoming heroes, like David and Goliath. That didn't
help me much.
I didn't feel like a criminal,
but I didn't feel like a hero either.
I was sitting on a rock on top
of Mt Martin thinking about all this. The moon was so bright I could
see forever. Trees and boulders and even the summits of other mountains
cast giant black shadows across the ranges. But nothing could be
seen of the tiny humans who crawled like bugs over the landscape,
committing their monstrous and beautiful acts. I could only see
my own shadow, thrown across the rock by the moon behind me. people,
shadows, good, bad, Heaven, hell: all of these were names, labels,
that was all. Humans had created these opposites: Nature recognised
no opposites. Even life and death weren't opposites in Nature: one
was merely an extension of the other.
All I could think of to do was
to trust to instinct. That was all I had really. Human laws, moral
laws, religious laws, they seemed artificial and basic, almost childlike.
I had a sense within me - often not much more than a striving -
to find the right thing to do, and I had to have faith in that sense.
Call it anything - instinct, conscience, imagination - but what
it felt like was a constant testing of everything I did against
some kind of boundaries within me; checking, checking all the time.
Perhaps war criminals and mass murderers did the same checking against
the same boundaries and got the encouragement they needed to keep
going down the path they had taken. How then could I know that I
I got up and walked around slowly,
around the top of Mt Martin. This was really hurting my head but
I had to stay with it. I felt I was close to it, that if I kept
my grip on it, didn't let go, I might just get it out, drag it out
of my begrudging brain. And yes, I could think of one way that I
was different. It was confidence. The people I knew who thought
brutal thoughts and acted in brutal ways - the racists, the sexists,
the bigots - never seemed to doubt themselves. They were always
so sure they were right ... these were the ones I thought of as
the ugly people. And they did seem to have the one thing in common
- a perfect belief that they were right and the others wrong. I
almost envied them the strength of their beliefs. It must have made
life so much easier for them.
Perhaps my lack of confidence,
my tortuous habit of questioning and doubting everything I said
or did, was a gift, a good gift, something that made life easier
in the short run but in the long run might lead to ... what? The
meaning of life?
At least if gave me some chance
of working out what I should or shouldn't do."
As they start to kill, to hunt and be hunted, they are all affected.
There are a lot of passages like the first set below in the early
novels. One of the subtle messages of these novels is what combat
does to its participants, how it eats away at them inside. Eventually,
without Ellie even really noticing, she stops caring, she starts
to be consumed by her environment, the killing just becomes routine
and not something to try and avoid. Eventually she and her friends
become so desensitised that killing becomes a
"I was feeling pretty unusual, walking back across the
paddocks. I imagined a huge shadow of me was moving across the sky,
attached to me, and keeping pace with my little body on the earth.
It scared me, really scared me, but I couldn't escape it. It loomed
over me, a silent dark creature growing out of my feet. I knew that
if I reached out to feel it I would feel nothing. That's the way
shadows are. But all the same the air around me seemed colder and
darker, as if for every person I killed the shadow would grow larger,
darker, more monstrous."
a little later
"The short walk to the mint was almost the end of me though.
As I bent down to cut it I felt my great shadow return, hovering
above me like an eagle, a predator. I was scared to look up. The
night was dark enough anyway, but I knew that however dark the sky
may have been, my tagging shadow was darker.
The mistake I'd made was to go
to the mint patch on my own. It was the first time I'd been alone
since shooting the soldier in Buttercup Lane. It was as though as
soon as I strayed away from my friends the sky filled with this
then, one hundred or more pages later
"He was still holding my arm and I turned a little more
so I was pressed into his chest. I had a bit of a sniffle in there,
then asked the question Fi had asked me. 'What's going to become
of us, Lee?'
'I don't know.'
'Don't say that. That's what everyone
says. I want you to be different to everyone else.'
'Well, I am. I'm a murderer.'
I felt a tremble pass through
his body as he said it. 'No you're not, Lee.'
'I wish I could believe you. But
words don't change anything.'
'Do you think it was wrong?'
He waited so long I thought my
voice must have been too muffled in his chest for him to have heard.
I started to repeat the question, but he cut me off.
'No. But I'm scared at what there
is in me that can make me like that.'
'So many things happened that
night. They mightn't ever happen again. Anyone would have gone a
bit crazy, after what you saw.'
'But maybe when you have done
it once, you do it more easily the next time.'
'I've done it too,' I said.
'Yes, I don't know why, but it
seemed different when you did it. Chris told me how blown apart
the guy was. And somehow, using a knife is different to a gun.'
I didn't answer and he continued after a while. 'Do you think about
I really cried then, sobbing like
my lungs were coming out of my mouth. I couldn't stop for ages.
The amazing thing was, Lee just kept holding onto me, like he could
wait forever. Finally I gulped out my daytime nightmare. 'I felt
like there was this big shadow up in the sky, hovering over me.
It made everything dark, and it followed me everywhere.'"
a few books later
"...we crouched there in silence, looking out over the shelf
and the dashboard. There were three little soft toys hanging right
in front of me. I couldn't see them very well in the dim light,
but the one my nose was bumping against was a blue and green bird
with horrible pointy eyes. I felt that at any moment he would start
flapping his wings and squawking to warn the soldiers we were there.
I had an urge to grab him and wring his scrawny neck. I think it
really dawned on me at that moment how much this war was brutalising
I gave my head a tiny shake to
clear away these stupid thoughts. 'It seems OK,' I said to Homer."
And brutalised they do indeed become. Compare these thoughts to
what they do a thousand pages after the first quote, when they kill
What is this doing to them
Ellie wonders at various times what will happen to them even if
they survive (many other times she wonders what it feels like to
"On of the things I find strangest and hardest is that
we were having such conversations. How could this have been happening
to us? How could we be huddled in the dark bush, cold and hungry
and terrified, talking about who we should kill? We had no preparation
for this, no background, no knowledge. We didn't know if we were
doing the right thing, ever. We didn't know anything. We were just
ordinary teenagers, so ordinary we were boring. Overnight they'd
pulled the roof of our lives. And after they'd pulled off the roof
they'd come in and torn down the curtains, ripped up the furniture,
burnt the house and thrown us into the night, where we'd been forced
to run and hide and live like wild animals. We had no foundations,
and we had no secure walls around our lives anymore. We were living
in a strange long nightmare, where we had to make our own rules,
invent new values, stumble around blindly, hoping we weren't making
too many mistakes. We clung to what we knew and what we thought
was right, but all the time those things too were being stripped
from us. I didn't know if we'd be left with nothing, or if we'd
be left with a new set of rules and attitudes and behaviours, so
that we wouldn't recognise ourselves anymore. We could end up as
new, distorted, deformed creatures, with only a few physical resemblances
to the to the people we once were."
Memories of a World Lost
As Ellie struggles to cope with what is happening to her, her friends
and their country she finds refuge in her memories of a loved world
lost. She knows she is idealising her old life, but she needs something
to cling to. The descriptions are often quite moving, but the sense
of loss that surrounds them is often much more haunting than the memories
"I loved the activity of the shearing shed. The sheep
milling in the pens. The dogs lying in the shadows panting, their
bright eyes watching the sheep, hoping they would be called up again
to run across their backs and shift them to the next yard or back
to the paddock. I loved the oily feel of the classing table, the
soft whiteness of the fleeces, the quiet bleating of the waiting
sheep. I was proud to see our bales, with our brands on them, on
the back of a truck heading for the sales. I knew they were going
half way round the world to be made into wonderful warm clothes
that would be worn by city people, people I'd never meet. Even the
really hard-bitten farmers, the ones you'd think had as much poetry
in them as a sedimentary rock, got a bit emotional about shearing."
"It was hot and dusty. The sun sat up there all day without
moving. It saw everything and it forgave nothing. Sometimes it seemed
like you were alone in the world, you and the sun, and at those
times you could understand why people in the old days feared
and worshipped it."
"I hated the sun. For months
on end it had no mercy. It burned everything. Everything that was
covered or hidden or fed with water, it burned."
"From the first I loved the land. I don't know whether
Dad wanted a son - most places around Wirrawee are run by men, and
handed on from father to son - but he never gave me any sign of
that. One time when a bloke at the Wirrawee Saleyards was talking
to us he said to Dad, right in front of me, 'If I had daughters
I wouldn't let them do stockwork.' Dad just looked at me for a minute
while I waited to see what he would say. Finally he said, 'I don't
know what I'd do without her.' I went red with pleasure. It was
the best compliment he ever paid me. I was nine years old."
... then a few pages later ...
"All that seemed like a movie to me that night, though,
laying under my mat of creepers, waiting for the long lonely hours
to tick away. I could call up those images of life as it used to
be, but they seemed to be things that happened to other people,
happy looking people in an artificial world, on a big screen. It
seemed unreal. I cried myself to sleep, but it wasn't much of a
sleep anyway. I was just lonely and scared and lost, and the morning
seemed a long way away."
Their old world, our world, is gone. Ellie longs for it and sometimes
her longing reminds us of what we take for granted.
"How I longed for a trip to the supermarket. I tortured
myself with memories of aisle after aisle crowded with canned peaches
and All Bran and Snack chocolate and Jatz biscuits, and the refrigerated
section, with the ham and salami and King Island Brie, and then
there was the freezer: Sara Lee Chocolate Bavarian and Paul's Ice-cream
and chicken nuggets. When I was tired of those sections I'd start
on the deli and the meat and the fish and the bread and the fruit
and the veg. The supermarkets of my mind gave me more pleasure than
the real ones ever had before the war.
But I had to push daydreams
away. It was time to put our tired imaginations to work."
As time goes on the characters' situation wears away at them. They
start to embrace the darkness growing inside them, they start to move
further and further away from what they once were.
"There was along silence. For the first time I felt real
hatred for the soldiers. It was such a dark evil force that it frightened
me. It was an though black vomit was filling me - as though a demon
inside was spewing black stuff into my guts."
... then a few pages later ...
" I grabbed Lee's head and pulled
it down so I could whisper in his ear.
'I want to find a knife'
'So I can kill the soldiers.'
I felt his body give a little
jerk, like he'd touched the terminals of a battery. But he didn't
say anything for a minute, just stood up straight, while I continued
to crouch beside him like the animal I'd become."
"As he walked back to the others he said to Robyn, 'If
you'd seen what I saw last night you wouldn't be praying for any
of them. And you wouldn't be wondering if we've done the wrong thing.
They're filth. They're vermin.'"
"'Faster!' I yelled at him. I fired another shot past
his head, which took out the windscreen, and blasted away into the
darkness. I was so pumped up. I'd never been so close to out of
control before. Normally I'd be embarrassed to be so full-on. Some
of it was fear, but most of it was anger. Stronger than anger: rage.
If anyone had asked me, I think
I would have said I was angry at [the failure of our attacks] but
the real anger went further than that. It was focused that night,
like it had never been before. And it was at these people. Fair
and square, right at them, right at their guts. The way they'd taken
over our town, our district and our country, and denied me everything
in life I cared about."
then a few pages later
"I looked at the man. His head was gradually tilting to
one side. I saw for the first time the hole in the back of his seat.
I felt sick but I admit I also felt a savage pleasure that we had
won. He'd tried to beat us but he'd failed. We had survived for
a few more minutes of precious life. He had not. Tought."
They'll never take me alive
At one point earlier the characters were captured. What happened to
Ellie then was so disturbing that she would rather than be caught
."I can imaging how the car looked to the soldiers: like
I'd shot the guy in cold blood and he'd crashed the vehicle. Not
a good scene for me if they caught me. I was fast getting into one
of those 'They'll never take me alive' states of mind they talk
about in movies. Instead of being a cliche it was beginning to sound
like a smart idea."
Choose the manner of your death
As the books move on the characters become more and more entrapped
by their circumstances. They start to see the world in a very peculiar
way. They are free while their family and friends are prisoners.
Sometimes they see this as terribly unfair, as a terrible burden
laid on them. But it is a burden they take up, even to the extent
that they become, as a group, quite fatalistic, even courting deathl.
Thus the quote below.
'Sometimes there aren't any questions any more. Sometimes there's
nothing to debate. If we have a choice at all, it might be as simple
as this: to die fighting or to die as cowards. Not much of a choice,
I agree, but if that's the way it is, I know what I prefer.'
Lee's statement shocked us into
silence. He put in words what I'd felt for some time ..."
They are 16 or 17 at the time. A few pages later they are trapped
in a situation where they see the only choice as how they die.
"Funny, I'd never heard him talk like that before. It
was like he was begging me for support. I wondered if he wasn't
sure himself, if he didn't know whether he had the strength and
courage for it. He was talking about suicide really, about our deaths.
I knew that straight away. There was no way anyone was going to
attack this place from the inside and survive ...
I walked away from him then. I
needed time to think. My skin was prickling again. It's not an easy
thing to face your own death. Not when you're feeling young and
alive and healthy. But I hardly had a moment to think before Fi
came over to where I was standing. I don't know whether she noticed
the way I was shaking, but she didn't comment on it. She just said,
very quietly, so quietly that I could hardly hear, 'Lee wants us
to attack the [...] I suppose, does he ?' I nodded, hugging myself.
Fi started trembling too. In the same soft voice she said, like
she was whispering to herself, 'I thought he would'. To my own surprise
I said: 'I think he's right.' ... 'Who's going to tell Kevin? Fi
Playing with a Wombat
A few pages before this scene Ellie was feeling totally isolated
and alone, a few pages later she will be in the worst situation
of her life, knowing with complete certainty that she and her friends
are about to die and simply having to decide the means. Lets say
its rather tense. In between those two sections John Marsden inserts
a breaker that changes the mood for a while. Such scenes occur throughout
the series, this one is my favourite.
"The track wasn't just made by humans. I was leading,
followed by [the others]. But I had to slow down when I found myself
behind the fat backside of a wombat, waddling along at his own pace.
Wombats are a law unto themselves. When I was little, I had a friend
out from town for the weekend: Annie Abrahams. She'd never been
on a farm before, and the first night, just after dark, we were
coming back from putting the chooks away - a little later than we
should have - and she saw a wombat. Before I could say anything
Annie ran up and gave it a hug. I guess she thought it was some
sort of cute cuddly bear. Well, the wombat didn't hesitate. He turned
around and buried his teeth in Annie's leg. She screeched like a
cockatoo at twilight. I tried to pull the wombat off, but it was
impossible. They're so strong. I was screaming for Dad, and Annie
was screaming non-stop and the wombat was grunting louder than a
bulldozer on a slope. It was scary. I didn't know how much damage
it might do to Annie. I thought her leg might be mangled to pieces.
Eventually Dad came running out. He tried to pull the wombat off
too and failed, and finally he gave it a hell of a kick in the guts.
The wombat let go and staggered away in the darkness. Then I didn't
know whether to be more upset about the health of the wombat or
the state of Annie's leg. But her leg wasn't too bad. Although it
was bruised, the skin wasn't broken - I think it was more the shock
and fear that had her screaming her head off.
I never found out what happened
to the wombat.
So when I realised we were following
a wombat's big bum I slowed down. There wasn't much room on the
track, and I wasn't looking for a fight just yet.
'Oh look,' said Fi, from behind
me, 'a wombat. Isn't it cute.'
I had an immediate fear that this
would be a repeat of the Annie Abrahams story.
'Yeah, real cute,' I said. 'Just
keep a safe distance.'
Fi paused and we watched the wombat
as it waddled on ahead. We were getting close to the turn-off where
the four-wheel-drive track went down the mountain to the farm, and
the wombat started to veer to the left. I thought I'd grab the chance
to show Fi a party trick that I had never tried myself but I had
heard Dad talk about. With no knowledge of whether it would work,
and not much confidence, I said to Fi: 'Did you know that they'll
follow a torchlight?'
Fi had been teased by us so often,
been the victim of so many practical jokes, that she wouldn't believe
me this time. 'Oh sure,' she said doubtfully.
'No, really, I promise.'
I swung my pack down and opened
the side pocket, pulling out my torch. Leaving my pack, I went forward
ten metres and flicked on the torch. We were well below the tree
line, so there was no danger from enemy soldiers. I focused the
beam of light on the ground in front of the wombat and then moved
it away to his side. To my surprise he turned as soon as I did it,
and followed the light obediently. Of course I didn't let the others
know I was surprised. I just acted cool, like this was exactly what
I took the wombat for a little
walk by moving the light around. I felt like a choreographer. The
others we all cracking up. 'Oh my God,' Fi kept saying, in her light
little voice that sounded sometimes as if it'd float away, 'that's
There still wasn't much room around
me, because Tailor's Stitch was just behind and we were surrounded
by thick bush. So I swung the light one more time and made the wombat
come towards me. I felt totally confident, totally in control. I
planned to walk backwards slowly as the wombat came in my direction.
The wombat hadn't read my script though. For no apparent reason
he started charging, overrunning the spot of light on the ground.
Maybe he saw me, but I really don't think so. Wombats give you the
feeling they're just about blind. But they could be tricking of
At first I thought it was a joke,
and I started going backwards a bit, getting faster as the wombat
accelerated. Then suddenly I decided I was in trouble. It didn't
matter any more what I did with the torch. The wombat had torn up
the rule-book. He'd stopped following the rules and he'd definitely
stopped following the light. The whole situation was out of control.
I forgot about my dignity and began to panic. a wombat at full gallop
is surprisingly scary. Considering they look like stuffed cushions
on four little legs they actually get up to quite a speed. So I
accelerated a bit myself. Ignoring the wild laughter of the other
four, I swung around to so I could make a high-speed getaway up
the wall to Tailor's Stitch.
And I fell over my pack.
I fell quite hard. The others
were pissing themselves. I have to admit I was genuinely scared.
I thought I was about to be torn apart by a wild wombat. The way
he was grunting sounded seriously unfriendly. And I'd landed on
my bad knee, which hurt. For a moment I expected the wombat to leap
on top of me and tear my head off.
But he didn't. He swerved off
his line and disappeared deep into the bush, having had enough of
humans for one night. I struggled up again, with no help from anyone.
They were still all falling around laughing. They can be pretty
stupid and juvenile sometimes. I brushed myself down, put my pack
back on, and started walking. I left it to them to decide whether
to follow or not."
I don't know about you, but I love that passage and no, I have
never tried that with a wombat myself.
Ellie and the Bush
As Ellie points out below, Australian's often idealise the bush
(those chunks of the country which is still largely in its original
state - such places exist throughout Australia - even in the cities).
Still, it is a powerful and very Australian place - Australia's
unique flora and fauna makes sure of that - and the bush is part
of our national psychology, a bit like the "old west"
is for Americans - except that the bush is still there if you want
to go and access it. Ellie is a creature of the bush, she grew up
surrounded by it and part of it - it helps her cope with what is
happening, it comforts her, it keeps her safe and secure.
" I kind of blanked out for while
- in fact for most of the morning - and rode in a coma. Fi kept
prodding me to keep me awake. But there is something about the bush
that calms you. I try not to get sentimental about it, because I
know how cruel it can be, and I saw what it did to Darina, but all
the same, sometimes it does make you feel better. We'd have visitors
from the city and they'd get all gooey and sentimental. I remember
two friends of Mum's looking out across the creek at a flock of
ducks on the other bank, and saying, 'Aren't they beautiful? What
a peaceful scene.' I just stared at the ladies in total disbelief.
At the time the ducks were engaged in a screaming brawl, as full-on
civil war, racing around with wings flapping, feathers flying, voices
squawking, like they wanted to kill each other.
So its no good kidding yourself
about the bush, or about nature for that matter.
I knew all that, but I still couldn't
resist the power of the place. At one stage we were riding through
a eucalypt forest, trees quite widely spaced, no undergrowth. It
was so easy, so relaxing. Tall white trunks, fawn bark peeling off
them, little brown birds darting from one to the next. There were
no bright colours to hurt they eye. Quiet, fresh, self-contained.
It wasn't paradise - far from it - but it would do me."
" The moon was well up by the
time I left. The rocks stood out quite brightly along the thin ridge
of Tailor's Stitch. A small bird suddenly flew out of a low tree
ahead of me, with a yowling cry and a clatter of wings. Bushes formed
shapes like goblins and demons waiting to pounce. The path straggled
between them: if a tailor had stitched it he must have been mad
or possessed or both. White dead wood gleamed like bones ahead of
me, and my feet scrunched the little stones and the gravel. Perhaps
I should have been frightened, walking there alone in the dark.
But I wasn't, I couldn't be. The cool night breeze kissed my face
all over, all the time, and the smell of the wattle gave a faint
sweetness to the air. This was my country; I felt like I had grown
from its soil like the silent trees around me, like the springy,
tiny-leafed plants that lined the track. I wanted to get back to
Lee, to see his serious face again, and those brown eyes that charmed
me when they were laughing and held me by the heart when they were
grave. But I also wanted to stay here forever. If I stayed much
longer I felt I would become part of the landscape myself, a dark,
twisted, fragrant tree."
" You can never stay angry for
too long in the bush though. At least, that's what I think. It's
not that it soothing or restful, because its not. What it does for
me is get inside my body, inside my blood, and take me over. I don't
know if I can describe it any better than that. It takes me over
and I become part of it and it becomes part of me and I'm not very
important, or at least no more important than a tree or a rock or
a spider abseiling down a long thread of cobweb. As I wandered around,
on that hot afternoon, I didn't notice anything too amazing or beautiful
or mindbogglingly spectacular. I can't actually say I noticed anything
out of the ordinary: just the grey-green rocks and the olive-green
leaves and the reddish soil with the teeming ants. The tattered
ribbons or paperbark, the crackly dry cicada shell, the smooth furrow
left in the dust by a passing snake. That's all there ever is really,
most of the time. No rainforest with tropical butterflies, no palm
trees or Californian redwoods, no leopards or iguanas or panda bears.
Just the bush."
Supporting one another
The group, their friendship and support for one another are major
parts of this series. They have their falling out, they get on each
other's nerves. But when push comes to shove they are there for
each other. They become incredibly close as people who daily hold
each others lives in their hands normally do. How much they come
to care for each other, how much they are willing to sacrifice for
each other make up some of the most moving sections of this series.
Many of these scenes blow the plot but here is one I can include.
Fi takes care of Ellie after a particularly devastating encounter.
" When we got to the house Kevin
was on sentry. He started to say: 'Where the hell have you been?'
but one look at me and the words died in his throat. He jumped down
and ran into the house. I stopped and leaned against a wall, thinking
'It's all right now, I don't have to do anything. Fi will be here
in a moment.' Then she was there and she took me inside, and in
one way everything was OK: I was lying on a sofa and getting wiped
down and they were trickling water in my mouth and tucking rugs
around my feet. Homer was there too, but I didn't want him; it was
only Fi I wanted. And she was fantastic. She sent Homer away quick
smart and she found some burns cream and some stuff for my bruised
ribs from deep inside one of Grandma's cupboards. She supported
my head with a pillow and she stayed there holding my hand until
I fell asleep."
The characters move a very long way in the space of the seven novels.
A very long way. By the end most are showing signs of significant
mental illness. They are now even killing as a means of stress relief,
for the thrill of it. This very late quote describes their return
from an attack on a patrol
" Homer grabbed my shoulder, giving
me a hell of a shock. I hadn't realised he'd moved so close to me.
He looked demented with joy. 'Time to go' he hissed in my ear: I
backed away. ... We turned and ran.
We ran nearly the whole distance
[to their base]. It was funny really, that we did that. It was like
a cross-country race. At first it was natural enough, rushing to
get clear before the reinforcements arrived. But even when we were
far enough away to be safe, we kept running. After a couple of k's
I stopped thinking about patrols and concentrated on getting my
breathing right. Glancing across at [the others], on the other side
of the street, I saw the same expression on their faces that I'm
sure was on mine. Kind of concentrated. Panting away, skin getting
paler as the streets rolled by, keeping the legs going, keeping
the arms going.
But it was fun to in a way. It
was the kind of dumb thing we did before the war, running for the
hell of it: because we were young and we didn't need an excuse to
be stupid. In the old days you'd see little kids in the main street
of Wirrawee holding their mum or dad's hand, and because their mum
or dad was walking to boringly the kids would skip and hop and dance.
It was like they had so much energy they had to work it off somehow.
We were a bit old for that but
we still has some energy and there were still times when we felt
like skipping or dancing. Not so many of those times lately, but
once in a while ...
Back in the house we waited while
[they] did the next radio check. They came back with the same message.
Pineapples. Nothing doing till tomorrow. at the earliest. Twelve
hours more waiting.
We were revved up, like city kids
going out to start nightclubbing at one o'clock in the morning"
Of course, they are not going out nightclubbing, they are kids
going out to kill and they go out again that night to kill once
more, for the thrill of it. Quite a contrast to the first
quote from a thousand pages before, a difference Ellie is entirely
Many of the characters are terrified much of the time. They can't
bring themselves to admit it, (and this refusal to look scared in
front of their friends drives them on time after time) but scared
they are. In little ways they just help each other all through the
series. Even to the bitter end.
This quote is from the bitter end.
" At least we didn't have heavy
loads; we'd hidden our main packs, to collect after the attack.
I found myself side by side with
Lee and suddenly felt an urgent desire to connect with him, to weld
myself to him. It was the complete opposite of the way I'd been
a couple of hours before. I grabbed his hand and squeezed it tight.
And when I say tight, I mean I drew blood. Well, nearly.
I was surprised at my feeling
but I don't think Lee was. He just made a face at me. He didn't
actually say, 'Are you in a state of total Terror?' but he knew
what was going on. My insides were liquid from the neck down. I
could almost hear them sloshing around.
I kept my grip on Lee's hand until
we were fifty metres from the road. The I let go, wondering when
I would get to hold it again. And if I ever did, would it be warm
and comforting, like now? Or would it be cold and clammy, lying
lifeless in mine?"