Chapter 1

Introduction

"Pat?"

"Mmm?"

"We had a form meeting yesterday."

"And?"

"It was about universities."

"Oh. We should talk about that. I'm sure Scotch will have something of the sort soon. There's a Year 12 Parent Meeting next week. Could you get up?"

It was a Saturday in February. I was sitting on the sofa reading Sir Nigel; Rachel had her head in my lap and her feet over the armrest, reading a book about Breughel. She sat up right away.

"Have you thought about it?" she asked.

"A little. I don't want to stay here in Perth. My dad went to Brisbane and Sydney. My mum went to Adelaide. I don't think I want to live in Queensland. And dad hated it when he lived in Canberra."

"Mrs. Wilkes said that ANU was the highest-rated university in Australia. But UNSW seems to be well thought-of."

"My dad did his postgraduate work at New South. He liked Sydney. But I'm not sure about going to the same place – though I certainly wouldn't be studying entomology! Do you know what you want to study?"

"I'd like something that has to do with both myth and literature. That's why I'm looking at this. But it's not what I wanted. Though the painting that inspired Auden and Williams is lovely."

"Tell me about it."

"Okay. But it's a long story. We're reading Ovid's Metamorphoses in Latin, and I asked about the Icarus story in book viii. Mr. Reilly said there had been many retellings and several modern poems about Icarus, and mentioned Auden and William Carlos Williams and Anne Sexton and Carol Ann Duffy. I read the Duffy, which is in a funny book where she's written poems about the wives and female relatives of people: Mrs Icarus, Mrs Freud, Mrs Rip van Winkle, the Devil's Wife, Medusa, and lots more. Then I looked at the poems by the two men, and they both wrote about a painting in Belgium by Breughel. So now I'm looking at Breughel."

"So who's the best poet?"

"I don't know. Auden's is the best poem; Carlos Williams is too spare; and I can't decide about Duffy. Maybe it's because she's still alive. But I liked most of her book."

"She's poet laureate?"

"In her last year or so."

"Anyway. So myth and the arts."

"And you?"

"Oh. History and ethnology and maybe law. I still want to help the real Australians."

"So's the Doyle history?"

"Well, sort of. Sir Nigel and The White Company are Doyle's take on the Hundred Years' War. Just as a lot of the Haggards are his take on South African history."

"Oh. We did the Hundred Years' War in class. English against French, right?"

"Yes. Except the French and Scotland were against England and the Holy Roman Empire and Portugal was against Spain ... Aragon, I guess. Doyle was Scots but Nigel was based on Sir John Hawkwood, an English mercenary. It begins under Edward III. Doyle also wrote about the Napoleonic Wars. He liked his historical novels more than Holmes or Challenger."

"Challenger?"

"Early science fiction adventures featuring Professor Challenger. Dad has them. They're fun."

"Sydney would be interesting. There are museums and the opera house. There's another uni in Sydney, isn't there?"

"Several, I think. But the University of Sydney's a big one."

"Let's look them up on the web, then we can talk about it some more."

We did. We spent about an hour browsing the Sydney pages and a bit less looking at those of New South. We also looked at the sites of the museums and the opera. We broke off when we heard Mum and Sarah arrive, they'd been off shopping.

"Hey! What have you two been doing?" Mum asked.

"We've been talking about universities and google-ing stuff."

"Oh. And?"

"And we think Sydney. But we'd like a sort of conference. Maybe you could ask my parents to come over here so the six of us can hear one another," said Rachel.

"Good idea. Not today, as I don't know when Gordy'll be back. Maybe tomorrow afternoon? Why don't you phone and see when your folks are free."

Rachel dug out her mobile and walked into the study. I looked at Sarah.

"Get any loot?" I asked.

"Some CDs and some clothes. Nothing you'd listen to." [Sarah's into something called 'hardcore punk.' She buys stuff by I Killed the Prom Queen and Mindsnare. I think it's awful.] "I got the most recent one by Against. It's a few years old but was on sale."

"Great," I snorted.

Rachel came back. "My mum says tomorrow's okay, but after dinner."

"That sounds fine. I'll ring her after Gordy gets home."

"Where'd he go?" I asked.

"Some cave south of Busselton. He's thinking of taking a class on a field trip there."

"That's not so far."

"No. Two hours or so each way. Apparently there are a lot of interesting invertebrates living in the pools in caves in NSW. Stygofauna. Gordy thought it'd be interesting for his students to see what's here in Western Australia."

Stygofauna are chiefly invertebrates living in groundwater. Many stygofauna species are thought to be restricted to very small areas, so any activity impacting on aquifers has the potential to cause extinctions. Stygofauna are likely to be threatened by human activities that cause water table decline, such as mine dewatering and large-scale agricultural irrigation. Groundwater contamination is also something that could damage stygofauna communities.

"Oh," said Rachel. "My dad's interested in stygofauna, too. He thinks the water from agriculture is changing the groundwater environment."

I though a bit. "Let's go to my room."

"Okay."

Upstairs, I said: "We've got to plan."

"What for?"

"Well, what are your folks going to ask? What are they going to say?"

"Oh ... oh. Hmmm. 'It's so far away.' 'Where will you live?' 'What will it cost?' That sort of thing."

"What about a car?"

"Oh, right."

"Okay. Here's map of Sydney. There's the uni. So, we could look at Annandale, Camperdown, Newtown, or Ultimo."

"Or Chippendale or Darlington or Stanmore."

"Right. But let's not get too far afield. If it's possible, we might walk to classes."

"Or cycle. I've heard there's a lot of cycling in Sydney."

"Right. So we figure on taking our bikes with us. Now let's look at places. Google is our friend. I think we should rent first, then after a year we can think about buying. So, we need two bedrooms..."

"Two?"

"One for a study, silly. Two bedrooms, at least one bath, and one parking place."

"Fine. Let's print out a map with the uni and a few suburbs on it."

We did and we looked at houses, but there was clearly nothing suitable. We looked at apartments and there was one in Annandale and another in Camperdown that looked feasible.

"They're very dear," Rachel said. "About a thousand a month each."

"That's not a problem," I responded. "You'll see."

"Did you look at the tuition cost?"

"Yes, but I think our fathers can cope with that."

"Seriously?"

"Yes, I'll bet the CSIRO has a provision for the children of staff. And I'm certain that UWA has one for faculty, too."

"Right. And we've both got good grades. There must be grants as well."

"Of course. And, to be sure, we'll have to get admitted."

Rachel punched me in the arm. "For a nungungi you're an idiot."

"True, sweetheart, true." I gave her a kiss. "Did you drive over?"

"Yes."

"Well, leave soon. Mention to your parents what this is all about, but no details. Okay?"

"Sure."

"And come back tomorrow, ready to have an adult discussion with our parents."

"I hope they behave. Parents can be so-o-o difficult."

I gave her another kiss and went downstairs.

"Tomorrow afternoon, Rachel?"

"Right, Weena. See you then."

Chapter 2 »