Authors: Phil Cummings
Phil Cummings was born in the seaside town of Port Broughton on South Australia’s Yorke Peninsula. The youngest of eight children, he was surrounded by storytellers and lived a life full of adventure!
After many years as a teacher of young children in Adelaide’s northern suburbs, Phil now writes full time. He lives in the Adelaide foothills with his wife, two children, a dog, two chickens, a budgie, eight goldfish and several possums.
We lived in a very small country town until I was nine years old. The stories in this book are based loosely on those memories. My father died when I was eleven and my brother David – Sam in this book – died in 1974. I am delighted to include some of my treasured memories of them both in this book.
The morning sun peeked over the hills and shone down on the small town of Mundowie. Long shadows stretched across fields, dry creek beds and white gravel roads. Roosters that had never met crowed to each other across the little town. A flock of noisy white cockatoos took flight from the gums by the big creek and shredded the sky. They headed for Danny Allen’s house. Out of the shadows of the creek, over the Mundowie Institute Hall and across the wide gravel road they flew.
The cockatoos were squawking overhead, their swift shadows scarring the ground, when Danny Allen and his small dog, Tippy, burst through the rickety old blue screen door –
– and onto the front verandah. Tippy ran down the steps (there were four of them), stopped at the bottom and stood wagging his tail, panting, looking back up at Danny, waiting, as if to say,
Come on, what are we doing? Where are we going? What’s happening?
Danny stood on the edge of the verandah, raised a hand to shield his squinting eyes and looked up at the cockatoos. He smiled down at Tippy then spread his arms like wings and leapt from the top step into the sunshine.
‘Squaaaaawwk!’ he cried. The cockatoos ignored him. Tippy danced excitedly and spun around on his hind legs like a dog in a faraway circus.
Danny raced out the rusty front gate that was never closed and onto the dusty footpath. Looking left then right he ran hard across the wide gravel road that cut through the middle of the town. Tippy was right beside him. Danny slapped his hip. ‘Come on, boy, let’s go. Come on.’ Tippy was a terrier, his fur a jigsaw of black and white patches. His thin black tail was curly like a spiral and had a white tip.
Danny’s boots were floppy (no socks, laces untied) and his shorts were twisted crookedly. Running wasn’t
easy. He’d dressed hurriedly in clothes he’d scooped up from the floor by his bed. The white T-shirt he was wearing belonged to his big brother, Sam, and flapped from his back like a torn sail.
Danny headed for his lookout tree across the road. It was a huge pepper tree that shaded the large white soldier statue in front of the Mundowie Institute Hall. The tree was old and the roots gripped the earth like an old man’s fingers. There were lumps and bumps and twisted branches all the way up the trunk. To Danny, they were little steps perfect for climbing.
Danny stood under the tree and glanced up into the tangle of branches. Sunlight sparkled through the leaves. Danny squinted. Tippy trotted up to him and sat at his feet. He loved his days with Danny.
Danny squatted down. He took his small dog’s head gently in his hands, rubbed his ears with twiddling thumbs and looked him in the eye. ‘You wait here, Tippy boy,’ he said. ‘I’m going up to see what I can see.’ Danny took a deep breath through his nose and rolled his eyes to the sky. ‘This is going to be an amazing day, boy. I can smell it.’ Danny started to climb.
Tippy sat and watched, tilting his head curiously from side to side. Danny was quick like a monkey. He could climb this tree faster than his brother, Sam, something of which he was very proud.
Danny pulled himself up onto his favourite branch.
It was thick and reminded him of an elephant’s trunk. He was higher than the white soldier statue.
There was a thinner branch just above his head. When he stood he held it to balance himself. On days when the wind was wild and his branch swayed he would pretend he was surfing the sky.
Not today though, because there was no wind. The day was hot and humid. Like a pirate in a crow’s nest Danny stood up and peered through the curtain of leaves in front of him. He could see the entire town. Mundowie was only a small place, with seven houses, a church, the cemetery and the Mundowie Institute Hall.
Danny looked straight across the road to his house. The tin roof was speckled with rust. His little sister, Vicki, appeared on the verandah and began spinning around a post near the front door. She started singing as if the verandah were a stage. As she spun, the dress she was wearing flared out like an umbrella. Danny looked to the back of the house.
The chickens were crowding near the tractor shed. Danny’s mum was throwing them seed like a magician throws magic dust. Another two huge old pepper trees, just like the one he was standing in, stood beside the tractor shed like giant guards on sentry duty.
Danny turned to his right. He could see the church on the edge of town and his dad on a growling tractor bumping across the top of a hill beyond that.
Then Danny heard a distant rumble echo across the sky to his left. He looked down at Tippy. ‘Did you hear that?’ he called.
Tippy lifted one ear.
‘That was thunder!’ Danny cried. He sidled along his branch. He felt the breath of a breeze. ‘I reckon it’s going to rain! I told you this would be an amazing day.’ Danny parted the thick leaves and peered out.
He looked left to the horizon beyond the big creek. There were thick clouds bulging like muscles. The clouds were dark and the colour of the bruise on Sam’s leg where the cricket ball had hit him.
Danny took a deep breath. ‘Smell the rain, Tippy. Can you smell it, boy? Can you smell the rain?’
Suddenly a small stone whizzed through the leaves behind him and just missed his head. Danny nearly lost his balance. ‘Hey!’
‘Danny! Get down here. Quick!’
Danny peered down to see his brother, Sam, standing under the tree.
Sam was tall and thin. He didn’t have Danny’s fat cheeks or chubby legs. And his hair, although straight like Danny’s, was dark, almost black. Danny’s hair was light brown. Sam had the same eyes as Danny though – deep brown. Chocolate drops, their mother called them.
‘Don’t throw stones!’ Danny grumbled.
Sam looked around suspiciously. ‘Just come down here,’ he hissed.
‘If you’re going to tell me about the thunder,’ said Danny, ‘I heard it.’
‘Don’t worry about that,’ said Sam, ‘I’ve got something great to tell you.’ Sam’s voice was strangely quiet and he was looking around as if he were a spy in danger.
Danny squatted on his branch. He was suspicious. Sam often set traps for him. Like the time he waited in the bedroom in the dark and stuck a hairy monster mask over the light switch. He had even put grease on the eyeballs.
When Danny had fumbled in the dark for the switch and felt skin, hair and slimy eyeballs, he screamed the loudest he had ever screamed in his life. He wasn’t going to fall victim to his brother’s tricks again.
Danny pulled the branches apart and peered out across the town. He couldn’t see anyone. ‘Why are you whispering?’ he asked.
‘If you come down I’ll tell you,’ said Sam.
Danny hesitated. Sam moved closer to the trunk.
A breeze came and whispered through the leaves. ‘Come on, hurry up. I want you to come with me,’ Sam said.
‘Where are you going?’
Sam craned his neck and narrowed his eyes. ‘I’m
going on a . . .’ he paused and thought carefully. ‘On a . . . secret mission.’
Danny’s ears pricked up when he heard the words
. He liked the sound of that.
Sam suddenly changed his approach. He shrugged his shoulders. ‘But that’s okay,’ he said as he turned casually away. ‘If you don’t want to come, then just forget it. I’ll go by myself.’
Tippy sat up, his left ear bent as if broken, and looked from Danny to Sam then back to Danny again. He knew something was about to happen.
Sam started to walk slowly away.
‘All right! Hold on!’ Danny called. ‘I’m coming down.’
Danny scrambled down and jumped to the ground –
. He stood looking expectantly into Sam’s eyes.
Sam frowned at Danny and tugged at his shirt.
‘Hey! That’s my shirt.’
‘Forget that,’ said Danny. ‘What’s the big secret? Where are we going?’
Sam smiled, his brilliant white teeth gleaming from his dusty face. He clasped Danny’s shoulders. ‘Remember the tadpoles Dad got for us last year?’
‘Remember the pond we dug for them by the chicken yard and the island we made in the middle that looked like Tasmania?’
‘And the frog racing after that?’
‘Well, you know that rain we had the other week?’
‘It was good, wasn’t it?’
‘Yeah, I thought it was, but Dad said it was useless. He said we needed it ages ago.’
‘Yeah, but it
good for them.’
‘Good for who?’ Danny frowned.
Sam straightened himself. ‘Well, guess what?’
Danny widened his eyes; the secret was coming. ‘What?’
Sam raised his eyebrows. ‘Mark Thompson told me that there are tadpoles at the dam. They’re hidden in little pools in the reeds in the small creek there.’
Danny looked suddenly worried. It was now clear to him why this was a big secret. They had been told
to go near the dam alone. It was just outside the town, past the church and down a small dirt track. They had to crawl through a fence and walk over a hill.
He felt a shiver prickle his spine. Inside his head he heard the echo of his mother’s voice.
go near the dam! The water is so cold and the sides so slippery you will fall in and never get out.
He could feel her thin finger jabbing rhythmically at his chest emphasising each word.
Don’t . . . ever . . .
go . . . near . . . the . . . dam! And put your boots on when you go outside. There are snakes about.
Danny straightened his shorts. ‘But you know what Mum says about the dam.’
Sam patted him on the shoulders. ‘Duh! Mum’s not going to know, is she? This is a
mission, remember? We won’t tell anyone!’
Danny hesitated. ‘Maybe we should wait for Dad to take us; then we can all go like last time.’
‘Dad hasn’t got time.
have to go.’ Sam tightened his grasp on Danny’s shoulders and shook him gently. ‘You do want tadpoles, don’t you?’
There was only one answer to that question.
‘Yeah.’ Danny nodded.
‘Right,’ said Sam. ‘Come on, then. We’ll be frog racing in no time. I’m going to get the biggest tadpole I can find.’
They marched across the road. Tippy followed. Sam had planned everything.
‘We have to go home first,’ he said.
Danny walked quickly to keep up. ‘What for?’
‘A big tin.’
Sam led Danny through the front gate. They hurried along the cracked path to the verandah. ‘Stay low,’ said Sam. ‘Don’t let Mum see you.’
Danny was excited. He felt like a real spy.
They crouched low and moved along the verandah to the side of the house. Tippy followed curiously. With their backs against the wall the boys looked down the long stony driveway to the shed.
Tippy looked as well.
Sam clutched Danny’s arm. ‘I’ll keep watch. You go down and get the tin.’
Sam continued. ‘There’s a big one with a wire handle under the workbench near the vice, next to the old drawers with all the nuts and bolts in them.’
Sam twisted his head sharply this way and that. ‘Ready?’
‘Right, all clear.’ He pushed Danny in the back. ‘Go!’
Danny had no time to discuss the plan. He was off! The noise of his feet crunching on the stones of the driveway made him nervous. Crouching low, he waddled, duck-style, under the kitchen window. He rose slowly and took a peek at his mother.
She was cooking and covered in flour. The radio was on and she was wriggling her hips. Danny smiled. Her long hair was pushed into untidy bunches with brown clips and some wispy strands hung at her shoulders. The apron she was wearing was covered in wild flowers. It had one torn pocket and tattered lacy frills. A song she
liked came on the radio. She turned it up and began singing at the top of her voice. Danny couldn’t stand her singing. He crept quickly on his way.