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Authors: Di Morrissey

When the Singing Stops

BOOK: When the Singing Stops
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Di Morrissey lived in Guyana in the 1970s and climbed the awesome Kaieteur Falls, the world's longest single fall of water. At the top of the falls lives the world's rarest frog, which has become the symbol for this novel. Di revisited Guyana in 1995 to research
When the Singing Stops.

Australia's most popular woman novelist, Di Morrissey's first book
Heart of the Dreaming
launched her bestselling career and paved the way for
The Last Rose of Summer, Follow the Morning Star, The Last Mile Home, Tears of the Moon, When the Singing Stops, The Songmaster,
and her latest novel,
Scatter the Stars.

Well known as a TV presenter on the original ‘Good Morning Australia', Di has always written—working as a journalist, advertising copywriter and screenwriter.

Di has two children and she lives in Byron Bay, NSW, where she devotes herself to writing, in between travelling to research her novels.

Di Morrissey can be visited at her website:

Also by Di Morrissey

Heart of the Dreaming
The Last Rose of Summer
Follow the Morning Star
The Last Mile Home
Tears of the Moon
When the Singing Stops
The Songmaster
Scatter the Stars
The Bay
Kimberley Sun
Barra Creek
The Reef

This is a work of fiction. While certain actual historic events and names are used, this novel does not reflect current events or people in Guyana.

First published 1996 in Macmillan by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Limited
1 Market Street, Sydney

Reprinted 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 (twice), 2005,2006

Copyright © Di Morrissey 1996
Illustrations copyright © Ron Revitt 1996

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.

National Library of Australia
cataloguing-in-publication data:

Morrissey, Di.
When the singing stops.

ISBN 0 330 35985 1.

I. Title.


Typeset in 11/13 pt Sabon by Post Pre-press Group, Brisbane
Printed in Australia by McPherson's Printing Group

These electronic editions published 1996 by Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd
1 Market Street, Sydney 2000

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All rights reserved. This publication (or any part of it) may not be reproduced or transmitted, copied, stored, distributed or otherwise made available by any person or entity (including Google, Amazon or similar organisations), in any form (electronic, digital, optical, mechanical) or by any means (photocopying, recording, scanning or otherwise) without prior written permission from the publisher.

When the Singing Stops

Di Morrissey

Adobe eReader format    978-1-74197-055-5
Online format    978-1-74197-658-8
EPUB format    978-1-74262-203-3

Macmillan Digital Australia

to read more about all our books and to buy both print and ebooks online. You will also find features, author interviews and news of any author events.


As always, to that special man who has loved me through every book

For my children, Gabrielle and Nick, in the hope that they too will return to Guyana and find its beauty unchanged

For Jim Revitt for his invaluable input with loving thoughts as he sets out on a new phase in his life

My wonderful mother and all my family, including Uncle Ron Revitt for his great drawings

In Guyana, so many dear friends whose hospitality, generosity and knowledge has been invaluable. Especially, Gabriel and Phillip de Freitas who first took me to the interior to climb Kaieteur in 1978

Ted Johnston for his proofreading

To all my supportive and helpful friends at Pan Macmillan in Australia and the UK

Carolyn Beaumont for her input and editing skills

And for those who gave me an insight into their specific fields of interest:
Professor Michael J. Tyler, Dept of Zoology, University of Adelaide, South Australia
Brian Maher, Sydney, Australia
Dr James Armstrong, Director of Science and Information, Dept of Conservation and Land Management, Perth, Western Australia
Brian Sykes, Georgetown, Guyana

If the frogs stop singing, the planet will die . . .

Guyana, South America, 1979

he cameraman peered through the oval window at the sheets of drifting mist below the Islander aircraft. Between the clouds was a daunting vista of compact jungle that seemed to be endless, smothering mountains and valleys in every direction. Conversation in the small aircraft had stilled within half an hour of take-off. It was too much effort above the noise of the groaning twin engines and the four passengers were left with their thoughts. ‘Broccoli,' thought Venti at last. The cameraman had been struggling for ten minutes to find a word to describe the jungle canopy spreading as far as he could see. ‘Yeah, that's it, as tightly packed as a head of fresh broccoli. If we go down we won't be found for a hundred years.'

Similar thoughts flashed through the minds of two of the others, but not Sir Gavin Rutherford, BSc, University of Bristol, academic turned television celebrity. He leaned back, smoothed his silver moustache and closed his eyes, relaxed and confident. Edwina, the producer, distracted herself by flipping through a tattered magazine. In the two years she'd been travelling with the
Planet Earth
team she'd been through some hair-raising journeys to reach locations from the Mojave Desert to the Galapagos Islands, from the Indian subcontinent to the Surrey countryside. And now Guyana.

What had started as an educational series about the animal kingdom and plant life of the Earth, narrated by the esteemed Sir Gavin, had caught everyone at the BBC by surprise when it turned into a ratings sleeper. Sir Gavin's enthusiasm and knowledge, with a dash of debonair charm, had propelled him more and more from doing voice-overs with an opening and closing stand-up to camera, to becoming a full-on integrated explorer in almost every scene.

Viewers saw him tiptoeing behind elephants, hanging from a hide in a tree to observe a lion kill, bobbing in a rubber duckie close to a birthing whale, lifting up a log to expose a brilliant snake or peering from under his trademark canvas hat to watch a Venus flytrap close on an insect. And all the while his breathless whisper of facts, in suppressed excitement at what he
was seeing, infected and captivated viewers who shared his adventures in the safety of their living rooms.

The soundman known as Rabbit, short for the velveteen rabbit or less kindly, cloth ears, because he only paid attention when listening through his padded ear cans, tried to stretch his legs and wondered if the pilot had dropped any of their luggage on top of his sound gun. He hadn't liked the way their gear had been banged into the rear of the aircraft. The casual weighing of passengers and freight had been sloppy and he hoped they navigated and landed with more sense than the pre-flight manoeuvres indicated. He didn't even want to think about aircraft maintenance.

This seemed a bit of an over-the-top expedition for just two brief on-camera segments. Sir Gavin paddling a dugout canoe through a floating raft of Victoria Regina waterlilies, conveniently filmed in the Georgetown Botanic Gardens, and now this bloody trek to some waterfall to find a frog. The frog better not be too near the falls or Sir Gavin's piece to camera would be drowned out.

Next to him, the cameraman continued to gaze down at the jungle where now a wide fat river snaked in twisted brown coils. The splashes of white in patches of the river he recognised as the surge of rapids. Here and there were signs that small-time goldminers had dredged great bites from the river banks, adding
to the pale muddy silt that flowed along with the coffee-hued water. Sometimes the virgin green was slashed by small logging operations, tracks from vehicles, a few blue plastic tarpaulins over a camp site and great bald orange patches sprinkled with matchstick-sized logs. But they were all puny impressions against the vastness of the jungle.

Despite Venti's cynicism and jaded attitude, his visual eye was still fresh and he was mentally framing shots as great green walls rose towards them, the canopy sprinkled now and then with a burst of pink and orange flowers. They were getting close, but the wet cloud cover was a worry. They hadn't planned on camping up here to wait for clear skies. The plane was only waiting an hour for them, then returning to Georgetown. Light looked to be a problem too. Water, glare, humidity and clouds. ‘Great. Just great,' he groaned to himself. How the hell did they ever find these falls in the first place, what sort of nutters went charging into places like that down there?

He looked across at Sir Gavin, who was making snuffling sounds in his sleep. Nutters like him. Poor old boy, always felt he'd been born a hundred years too late. This belated blooming of adventure had salved a lifetime's frustrations and earned him a knighthood to boot.

Edwina suddenly let out a small exclamation as she looked out of her side of the aircraft and signalled frantically to Venti.

‘Christ! Look! The falls!'

The pilot banked and swung up the gorge, through mist swirling like smoke surging up from the rocky base of the escarpment. The plane headed straight towards the majestic curtain of water from the broad Potaro River that thundered over the lip of the gorge. Boiling creamy foam powered down and down over Guyana's magnificent Kaieteur Falls, two hundred and twenty-six metres to the base from the tannin-coloured Potaro.

There was a collective gasp at the beauty and power of this spectacle rising out of nowhere as the little aircraft flew up and over the drop and was once again in cloud. Venti cursed not having the camera with him. The plan was to shoot the falls as they left. Mistake, he thought gloomily. It was not one of the Australian-born cameraman's better days. Too much rum the night before.

They descended within minutes, crunching down on a bare red clay runway cut between tufts of wet grass.

The location for the first piece to camera was at a lookout with the drop of the falls in the distance. Sir Gavin earnestly and admiringly paid homage to the
‘brave and tenacious plant soldiers who fought their way up this barren sandstone escarpment to cling in a hairline crevice, establish a base camp and germinate, nourished
by spray from the falls and humus forming around their roots'.

Here they would cut in close-up shots of frail lichens, mosses, orchids and ferns clinging to the sides of the waterfall.

‘Left undisturbed for centuries, living in this mini eco climate, plants we consider rare and precious have flourished into benevolent monsters.'

At this point the crouching Sir Gavin straightened up so that the falls were visible over his shoulder and told Edwina to make a note ‘to get a shot of that giant bromeliad back along the track there'. Turning to the pilot, who was acting as guide, Sir Gavin barked, ‘Right, Mr McPhee, on to the falls'.

Venti and Rabbit brought up the rear of the group, panting and sweating in the steamy humidity under the weight of their gear. They stopped as the pilot pointed out that caution was needed on the slippery, dribbling rocks covered in lichen that skirted the falls. They couldn't see the falls but they could hear the roar of the water close by, and the mist of spray was refreshing as they picked their way through breaks in the foliage.

Venti rested his tripod on the ground and drank the tepid water from the recycled rum bottle passed around by the pilot, Gibson McPhee.

Suddenly they burst out of the thicket and walked straight onto rocks at the top of the
extraordinary falls. ‘Breathtaking, huh?' called Edwina to Venti, who was bracing the tripod and figuring out how to keep the mist off his Arriflex lens.

He paused and raised an eyebrow. ‘Be all right after a bit of rain.' Edwina laughed. She liked Venti's sense of humour, very Australian, she thought.

The pilot watched with some amusement as Sir Gavin inched his way to the edge of the falls where the river slid over the abyss.

Rabbit clipped a small microphone onto Sir Gavin's shirt and went back to take a sound level, observing to Venti, ‘Can you imagine if this were America? They'd have wire fences, hot dog stands, souvenir stalls, key rings, teaspoons, the lot'.

Venti smiled. ‘It'll be some time before this spot is chocka with honeymooners like Niagara. It's five times the height of Niagara, you know.'

‘I wonder if the tourists even know about this place.'

‘Come back in twenty years time, in the 1990s, and see if it's been overrun.'

Edwina interrupted. ‘Please chaps, we haven't time for little touristy chats. We have to move along. Mr McPhee is anxious about the clouds if you want shots flying out.' She cupped her hands and shouted, ‘One take please, Sir Gavin'.

‘Go and fix his hair, or tell him to put his hat on, Edwina,' said Venti peering through the lens.

‘I'm not going any closer to the edge than this. You know I've got this thing about heights and cliffs. Anyway he doesn't care what he looks like on camera, you know that.'

Damp patches on his shirt, silver hair flying away, wet shiny face, she knew it wouldn't bother Sir Gavin. He felt it all added to his authenticity. Off camera, however, he was fastidious about how he looked.


Sir Gavin swept an arm from the falls behind him to gesture towards a patch of small glossy green bromeliads clinging to the edge of the rock.

‘In order to discover the rare treasures of our world, one has to travel to places like this .
. .
the top of Kaieteur Falls in Guyana to find this .
. .
the world's rarest frog,
Colostethus beebei.
The golden frog. They live here and only here, in these bromeliads constantly wet from the spray from these mighty falls . . .'

‘Cut,' called Edwina. ‘Sir Gavin! How are we going to cut in a shot of a gold frog? Wherever are we going to find one? We haven't much time.'

Sir Gavin beamed. ‘Come and see for yourself!'

The crew gathered around, peering into the spread of waxy wet leaves. There, blinking out at them, was a tiny frog.

‘God, it's beautiful. It looks like it's solid gold. With diamonds for eyes!' gasped Edwina.

‘Beats the green frog that used to be in the drainpipe at Mum's,' conceded Venti.

The pilot chuckled. ‘It's a perfect living symbol of this part of the world. This place is supposed to be riddled with gold and diamonds.'

Venti angled the camera into the heart of the plant and felt that special thrill when he saw through the lens a perfect shot. The small flat frog, the length of Edwina's thumb, crouched motionless, its skin glittering as if gold-plated.

‘Not even Tiffany's could better Mother Nature here, eh?' grinned Sir Gavin with great satisfaction. He always liked a win for nature.

Several times as the taxi headed back to the Pessaro Hotel from Ogle airport, Sir Gavin yawned. The beaming adventurer was replaced by a tired and slightly bored aristocrat. ‘Edwina, be a dear and get the hotel manager fellow to rustle up some decent wine for dinner. Tell him to put the hard word on the British High Commissioner if necessary. I couldn't face another of those dreadful rum punches.'

‘A country with no wine and no potatoes,' mused Venti.

‘But gold frogs and diamonds,' smiled Edwina.

Sir Gavin had lost interest in nature. ‘A full-bodied claret would be excellent. Help the appalling food go down.'

BOOK: When the Singing Stops
2.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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