Authors: Andrew McGahan
âCandid and unembarrassed, McGahan's work throbs with intensity.' â
New Zealand Herald
âWith his debut novel,
, Andrew McGahan announced himself as a precocious master of deadpan, trawling pitilessly and hilariously through the post-Bjelke-Petersen netherworld of Brisbane.'âMark Butler,
âEvery bit as good as its predecessor.' â
âThe pre-eminent Australian road novel.' âMark Butler,
âOne of the most exciting crime stories to come out of Australia in a long time.' âMichelle Griffin,
âI was blown away by Andrew McGahan's breakout with
... my pick as the best novel published this year.' âJohn Birmingham,
Sydney Morning Herald
THE WHITE EARTH
The White Earth
builds to a peak that announces McGahan's arrival as a novelist whose ambitions and skills are grand indeed.' âRosemary Sorensen,
âPart family saga, part history and part gothic thriller,
The White Earth
propels the reader relentlessly towards its stunning conclusion. Not to be missed.' â
ANDREW McGAHAN was born in Dalby, Queensland, and was raised on a wheat farm before moving to Brisbane. Since the publication of his first novel, the bestselling
in 1992, he has produced three other novelsâ1988 (1995),
The White Earth
(2004)âas well as award-winning stage-plays and screenplays. He currently lives in Melbourne with his partner of many years, Liesje.
As far as I know, there is no Capital Hotel in Brisbane. All the other pubs and Brisbane localities mentioned in this book are real. However, characters described throughout as working in these establishments are entirely fictional. They are not meant to bear any resemblance whatsoever to people who work, or have worked, in any of these places.
This edition published in 2005
First published in 1992
Copyright Â©Andrew McGahan 1992
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 10 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.
Â Â Â Â Publication of this title was assisted by the Australia Council, the Federal Government's arts funding and advisory body.
Allen & Unwin
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National Library of Australia
ISBN 978 1 74114 772 8
eISBN 978 1 74343 213 6
Things started with Cynthia in October.
It was three days after my twenty-third birthday. I'd just quit work at the drive-through bottle shop of the Capital Hotel. I'd been there three years, working twenty hours a week at serving the cars and stacking beer in the fridges. I had no fondness for serving cars or stacking beer, but even so it took an ugly dispute between the staff and the management to get me out. They didn't sack me, but they sacked everyone else, people who'd been there for years longer than me. I showed up for the evening shift and my name was the only one left on the roster. They wanted me to work the next four days straight, twelve hours a day, until they made up the numbers. I'd never worked four days straight in my life. If I'd been a man of strength I would've walked out there and then, left the customers waiting, the manager screaming. I wasn't a man of strength. I waited until the end of the shift. I closed up the shop. Then I resigned. Quietly. The manager asked me why. He asked me if it was something personal. There wasn't much I could say. I was tired. I felt it was time to wind that part of my life down. Work wasn't the answer to anything...
This was in Brisbane. Throwing away the job, all I had left was a car, seven hundred dollars in the bank and a two-room rented flat in New Farm.
I lived there alone.
The flat was in an old house, not far from New Farm Park and the river. There were eleven other apartments, all two rooms. The toilets and showers were communal.
The other residents were old men. Single. Out of work. Living out their days on the pension. To occupy themselves they spent their time drinking cask wine, red or white, in each other's rooms. They went through seven, eight, nine casks a day between them. When the casks were finished, they inflated the empty bladders and threw them out to the back yard. There were hundreds of the things out there, silver and plastic and indestructible. The real estate agent who ran the house had given up complaining about it. We weren't worth his time. Nothing in the place was, the behaviour of the residents least of all. We were all on two-week leases and he couldn't understand why we lived there in the first place.
I lived there because it was the cheapest accommodation I could find. Twenty hours a week at the bottle shop didn't leave much of a wage. And also because the rooms on either side of me were empty, and because the old men up and down the hallway were mostly harmless. They fought with each other and stole off each other, but left me and my things pretty much alone. They liked me. I was young, I was going to inherit whatever sort of earth it was they left.
Some of them liked me more than others. One was an old black man named Richard. He had an occasional habit of watching me when I was in the shower. There were no doors on the booths. He'd drift up and bring out his smooth old penis and inquire if I would like to suck it for him. Or if I wanted him to suck me. Then, after I'd say no, he'd focus on my waist and masturbate until he came over the tiles. I let him be. He was no danger. He was weak and worn and bruised from the drinking, and from the periodic beatings the others gave him. They considered themselves hardened men. Several of them had fought in World War Two. They had no time for faggots.
After my resignation from the bottle shop I drove home and parked in the back yard, then walked up the back steps into the hall. It was getting close to midnight. Most of the doors were open. The old men were arm wrestling in one of the rooms. I looked in. Two of them were clasped fist to fist on the double bed. Three or four others were watching on, screaming. It was all hatred and need. âGordon!' they yelled, âGordon get
They were eyeing off the six pack I was carrying. I declined. I was in a thoughtful mood. I was unemployed again, there were life decisions to be made. I wanted the beers for myself.
My room was two doors up, and everyone's keys fitted everyone else's doors. I was always suprised that no one went into my rooms when I was out. I had a TV in there, and food, and very often beer in the fridge, but things only occasionally went missing. Mostly it was clothes. Shirts. I unlocked my door and closed it behind me. I put the six pack in the fridge, took one beer out, opened it and sat there for a time. The thoughtful mood went away. I reached over to the phone and called up Morris. He was one of the people who'd been sacked from the Capital. He worked in the bottle shop with me. He was young and quick and more or less ran the place. He was the only one who understood the stocking system. No one had thought
âSo what happened?' I asked him.
âWhat happened with what?'
âYou've been fired.'
âWhat!? No one told
âAnd I've quit.'
âReally?' He yelled the news to someone off phone, then came back on. âKaren says hello and congratulations. So what'd they say?'
âThey said they didn't like your attitude.' In fact, the manager had told me he thought Morris was an arsehole. It was partly true. Morris knew more about pubs than anyone else at the Capital. His contempt was fairly obvious. âThey also fired Lisa, Carla, Cynthia and Geoff.'
Cynthia was in there, but I didn't know much about her then. She was just one of the barmaids. A little sharper than the rest perhaps.
âJesus,' Morris was saying. âNo one's told me anything. I was gonna go to work tomorrow. And you've quit?'
âIt seemed a good time.'
âWe've gotta celebrate this. You got anything to drink?'
âA six pack. I'm on the first now.'
âOkay. I've got some wine. I'm on my way.'
âMorris, you realise I didn't quit for your sake.'