Authors: Kate Welshman
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A Random House book
Published by Random House Australia Pty Ltd
Level 3, 100 Pacific Highway, North Sydney NSW 2060
First published by Random House Australia in 2009
Copyright Â© Kate Welshman 2009
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted by any person or entity, including internet search engines or retailers, in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying (except under the statutory exceptions provisions of the
Australian Copyright Act
1968), recording, scanning or by any information storage and retrieval system without the prior written permission of Random House Australia.
Addresses for companies within the Random House Group can be found at
National Library of Australia
Author: Welshman, Kate
Title: Posse / Welshman, Kate
ISBN: 978 1 74166 335 8 (pbk.)
Target audience: For secondary school age
Dewey number: A823.4
Cover design by Design Cherry
Cover photograph by Getty Images
For my posse â Madeleine, Richard and Iris.
And for Mrs Annette Wright,
the maths teacher who counted a lot.
T'S THE KIND OF HEAT
you can't escape. Not in the shade of a hut. Not in a cossie. Not in the middle of a dam under a willow tree. It's the kind of still, sweaty, smothering heat that sends you mad.
Earlier this summer fires raged through the bushland of Sydney and its outskirts. People died. Houses burned to the ground. Somehow the Riveroak Recreation Ranch and its staff were spared.
If I were a fire, I'd put this dump out of its misery. I'd explode through the treetops of the
bush, incinerate the timber huts one by one, then skip through the long, dry grass to the mess hall. I'd run along the old ceiling beams until they collapsed into the kitchen. Then I'd swallow the gas stove and BOOM!
Bye-bye, Riveroak Recreation Ranch. Hello, air-conditioned bus bound for Sydney.
God only knows what was going through Miss Young's mind when she booked this place for the Year Eleven camp. It's supposed to challenge us â I think that's what our revered deputy headmistress said. Yes, I think those were her last words before she was taken by ambulance to Nepean Hospital with heatstroke.
That hospital has seen quite a stream of business from the Methodist School for Girls over the last two days. Yesterday Naree Jessup was bitten by a spider and her foot blew up to the size of her head. This morning Steph Loughnan woke up with galloping thrush or something like it after skinny-dipping in the dam last night. She was
scratching herself through her shorts like there was no tomorrow. She didn't even care that everyone was watching. It was quite humorous.
The doctors at Nepean must wonder what shape of insanity drives a school to make its students play archery and go orienteering in this flat, flyblown paddock for the hottest week of the year. I could tell them what shape of insanity. This will be my fifth year at this crazy school.
My mum doesn't believe in private schools. She thinks they're a waste of money. It's my dad who wants me here. And he pays the school fees â eight grand a term. I'd rather go to a public school and pocket the money. When I suggested that to Dad in a letter recently â I hardly speak to him â he sent me a cheque for a thousand dollars. Mum found it and ripped it up.
âHe's trying to buy you,' she said. âHe's never done anything for you. Never. Men are just amazing.'
I could do with the money too. I need to update
my wardrobe. It's very daggy at the moment, full of homemade clothes. Mum's been knitting and sewing clothes for me since I was a baby. It's a nice thought but everything looks like a sack. I would never tell her that, of course, even though my friends don't mind telling me. I can handle the paying-out â I have a sense of humour â but Mum would be cut. All I can say is thank God for school uniforms. On mufti days I wear my uniform and pretend I'd forgotten that I didn't have to.
Anyway, as I was saying, the Methodist School for Girls is certifiably insane. Neat, sneaky, Christian girls glide through the grades. Real talent and intelligence hit the skids. I suppose the girls in the A-classes draw a grudging respect. But it's the neat, sneaky girls with mothers on the Ladies' Auxiliary who get the easiest ride.
I'm not a neat, sneaky Christian. I'm big and messy, with long curly hair that I bleached blonde last year. It was a contest between Mum and Miss Young for the biggest ranting fit. I think Mum
probably won. She doesn't believe in doing anything to hair except cutting it. She sports a stylish grey bowl cut with bushy sideburns. Once she broke her own rule by getting a tight perm, but it fell out after a week. Frankly, it was a relief. She looked as if she belonged in a nursing home. She looked like Nanna. I was waiting for her to pull out the blue rinse.
I hope I don't look like Mum when I'm fifty. She really hasn't aged well. Her unattractiveness is something I've only appreciated in the last couple of years. I should have noticed it earlier. Dad was going on about it even before they broke up.
Anyway, my roots are about ten centimetres long now. I like them. They make me look grungy. Miss Young, whose hair is also an unnatural shade of blonde, wrote a letter to my mother suggesting that I have the blonde bits cut off. Luckily I intercepted it before Mum or Nanna could open it. I imagined Mum holding me down, like she did when I was little, while Nanna used the kitchen
scissors to sculpt my hair into a bowl cut. Then we'd be the bowl cut triplets. Three generations of ugly hairdos under one roof.
But even with ringlets and a big prissy bow I wouldn't impress the teachers at the Methodist School for Girls. For one thing, I can't lie to save myself. It's odd, because both my parents are prodigious liars. Mum lies to herself and Dad lies to the rest of the world. I, on the other hand, am just too damn honest for my own good. I can't say the Lord's Prayer with my head bowed and my hands clasped. I can't follow orders from people who are stupider than me. I can't tell the sports mistress that I can't go swimming because of my period when really I've only forgotten my swimming bag. Some girls use the period excuse three weeks out of four. Miss Howell lets them get away with it. What's she going to do? Ask them for evidence?
There are two teachers I like, and Miss Howell is one of them. I suppose it's because she coaches
the first hockey team and I've been in the firsts since Year Seven. I don't like to blow my own trumpet, but I'm the best hockey player at school by quite a way. Miss Howell knows I'm indispensable to the team and she respects me. When I swear or shout or forget my mouthguard, she lets it fly. She's not on my case all the time like some of the other teachers.
My other favourite is Mrs James, my English teacher. She's about a hundred and has, I'm sorry to say, a grey bowl cut. But she's nothing like my mother. She's a hippie, I think. She wears cowboy boots with long skirts and bright, flowing shawls. During class she loses her temper and throws the whiteboard marker at girls who irritate her â usually the little saps. It cracks me up to see a slash of ink on the smooth forehead of a shocked little neat-and-sneaky. It really does.
English is my only A-class. According to Mrs James I write pretty well. I write short pieces mostly â stories with a funny twist. Mrs James says they
make her laugh so loudly that she wakes her husband up when she reads them in bed. She reckons I could make it as a professional writer. I've never told Mum about this ambition and I never will. She thinks that anything she doesn't or can't do is a waste of time, frivolous. She'll just walk past the bookshop at Beecroft Village one day and see me inside autographing copies of my novel. I'd have to shout out to her, of course â Mum doesn't look into shops as she walks past. And she doesn't believe in reading fiction. She reads medical journals, but not the one Dad writes for.
Well, at least I know what I want to do with my life, which is more than can be said for some of the saps in my year. But there are some pretty decent girls as well. Most of them are in my little posse. I actually hate the group system at school. You have to sit with the same girls at every recess and lunchtime or people think you're a traitor. You practically need a visa to move from group to group. And if you're not in a group, then you eat
your lunch in the library, alone. Better to have a posse than sit in the library like a nigel and listen to the librarian and her assistant whisper about the French porno they saw on SBS the night before.
I'm essentially the boss of my posse. It's made up of people from my opportunity class at Beecroft Primary as well as a couple of cool girls I picked up along the way. Clare, Patricia and I were in the OC together and we were lucky enough to be enrolled at the same high school, albeit a very silly one. Deborah is my best friend in Mrs James's English class â she's worldly and sophisticated, doesn't get involved in catfights, but doesn't suffer fools either. And Johanna is in the first hockey team. Johanna's verging on being a neat-and-sneaky. She's not as bright as the rest of us and her father's the school minister. It's her raunchy sense of humour that saves her. And she's not too bad with a hockey stick either.
So the five of us are here at Riveroak Recreation Ranch, standing in the middle of a dam under the
branches of a willow tree, green water up to our armpits. The dam is very shallow. In fact we're about knee-deep in duck-poo sludge, but no one minds because it's so cool. We've been out here since just after breakfast, moving with the shade of the tree. Everyone else is in the full sun. We don't care. We're not sharing our shade with anyone. It's a matter of life or heatstroke.
Miss Howell's just returned from dropping Steph Loughnan at Nepean Hospital. One of the camp leaders has driven her in his little Golf. His name's Bevan. I know this only because Clare keeps rattling on about him.
âBevan's pretty lush, no? He's so tanned and muscly. And those blue eyes! You just get lost in them. I think he looks like Johnny Depp.'
âMaybe Willy Wonka,' says Deborah. âNot Jack Sparrow. Does Johnny Depp even have blue eyes?'
âHe's past his best, if you ask me,' I say.
âAs an actor, you mean?' says Clare.
âWell, what do you mean?' says Clare. âAs an actor or as a man?'
âI don't know.'
âWhat do you mean, though?'
I shrug. I really don't care. I'm just shooting the breeze, but Clare doesn't let people get away with logical inconsistencies by being vague. She hates vagueness. She pushes you, presses you, until you find the words to express what you mean. It's a kind of ruthlessness, I think, because once your proposition is clear she makes fun of it. It gets on my nerves, but I let it go because she's so damn pretty. She had her hair cut short during the summer holidays and it makes her face look fantastic, even more pixie-like. She has beautiful sleek, straight chestnut hair, which catches the bright flecks in her green eyes. Her hair used to be brown but the teachers don't bug her about colouring it. She looks like a model.
She's staring me down now, I think, but I can't tell because she's wearing sunglasses. Gucci. They look great on her.
âI don't care for Johnny Depp as an actor or a man,' I say, in the interests of putting it to bed.
âHow can you say that?' says Clare in a torrent of outrage. âAfter
, how can you say that?'
âLeo DiCaprio was good in that too,' says Deb. She's very artistic, and a film buff to boot. Her mother is a painter and teaches at an art college in the city.
âYes,' says Clare, âhe plays a very convincing child retard. No offence, Patricia.'
Patricia's little brother's a retard. She loves him to death and gets upset when we call people âretards'.
âBut he was playing a real retard, I mean, an
retard,' continues Clare with complete and utter insensitivity. âIt's not like I'm just calling him a retard because I think he's an idiot, which I do. I'd take Depp over DiCaprio any day. I'm into real men, you know, not little boys.'
Patricia isn't taking offence though. It's taking
everything she's got to survive this sun. She's wearing one of those neck-to-knee cossies for people with fair skin and has slathered on sunscreen everywhere else. Her face is blood-red, her big jaw a little slack as she breathes audibly.
âGod, why are they doing this to us?' she asks. âI'm getting skin cancer here. Maybe I'll go back to our hut.'
âDon't even try,' says Johanna. âMrs Kerr's out there cracking the whip. They don't want anyone in the huts during the day. They think we want to go inside to commit
âYou think so?' I say.
âI know so,' she says, wrinkling her flat pug nose. âShe was talking to Dad at church last year about lesbianism at school. Apparently it's an epidemic.'
âYou always use that word,' says Clare. âEverything's an epidemic. I mean, Amy wishes it was an epidemic, don't you, dear?'
âGet lost, Clare,' I say. âGo back to Bevan, will you?'
Clare vacillates between completely ignoring your feelings and deliberately setting out to hurt them. She's a real bitch, if the truth be known, but she gets away with it so easily. She just keeps going like the thing that wouldn't shut up. At least she's switched back to Bevan now.
âDo you think he's a virgin? I mean, he's training to be a minister. They have to be celibate, don't they?'
âOnly before they're married, you idiot,' says Jo, delighted to be one up on Clare. âWould I be here if my father was a virgin? We're not Catholics, you know.'
âNo, we're Methodists,' says Clare.
âNo, we're not,' says Jo. She's the guru on religion. âThe Methodist Church doesn't even exist in Australia any more.'
âThen why do we attend the Methodist School for Girls?'
âIt should be called the Uniting School for Girls.'
âI've been telling people I'm a Methodist.'
âTell them you're an idiot.'
Clare folds her arms and looks down. We offend each other all the time, but no one's ever
offended. We've each got our little weaknesses that the others know about. We tease each other, but if anyone from outside the group criticises one of us, it's war. It's one of the few advantages of the group system, I suppose. We really close ranks.
Miss Howell's just walked over to the dam. She's wearing her âuniform' â a short navy blue tennis skirt, polo top and blinding white sneakers. Her brown hair is pulled into a high ponytail with a short, straight, schoolgirl fringe. Overall it's an odd outfit for a middle-aged woman, but she's looked like that for as long as I've known her. No one knows better than I do that it could be a lot worse.
âIt looks nice and cool in there,' she says. âI might join you later.' I like the way she'd prefer to socialise with us than with the other teachers.