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(From Trinity College WA archives, author unknown.)

The first paragraph established a complex, pleasant image of an experience virtually all readers can share.  This establishes a sense of commonality with the first person narrator.  The softness, gentleness and vivid colours of the fantasy image appeal strongly, and encourage readers to identify with the first person narrator.

The reference to kissing the girlfriend and keeping private secrets from Mum establish the character as an adolescent with whom all readers can identify, because even really old people like me were once adolescents.  There is an additional appeal in this establishment of an adolescent narrator, because we admire the growing independence of adolescents, but we do hold them fully responsible for the situations that are part of their lives.  They can blame a lot on their elders.

The first two sentences following the dreamy introduction shift us precipitously to a more specific reality:  Auntie Nira’s fighting and the observation that there are 16 people in the house begin altering the initial perception of the reader.

In the next sentence, the narrator says that “there is no hope for us if we don’t stick together.”  This is the first indication that the theme has to do with family loyalty.  It also indicates that family membership, not race, is what sets these people apart from mainstream Australian society.

The complications in the rising action of the story consist of observations about various members of the family.  They are delivered as a disorganised and fairly random interior monologue, mimicking the random thoughts of the adolescent male Aboriginal narrator.

Dad is not presented in a positive light.  He is a “big” Thursday Islander who was once a boxer, and he beats his children. refusing to share his dole cheque with the family.  Nonetheless, he is part of the family and receives loyalty even from his mistreated children, re-emphasising the important of family in this culture. 

Uncle Joe was also a boxer, but he “got killed by a featherfoot.”  The featherfoot is an archetypal evil spirit in Aboriginal culture.  The narrator obviously believes in the physical reality of this spirit, and reports being quite frightened by the girls who “played a spirit game.”  This emphasises the differences in belief between Australian Aboriginal culture and mainstream, white European Australian culture.

Darryl and Lewis broke into a house yesterday and “found $500.”  The use of the word “found” rather than “stole” indicates an acceptance of the act of stealing.  It is also viewed positively because it is going to result in a “wicked feed-up” tomorrow.

The reader is quite surprised to learn that Lewis is only 9, and is a good thief because he is so small and black.

The other “big” man in the family is Clancy, but he something of an idol and mentor to the narrator.  He is currently on parole, having served 5 years of a sentence for a revenge killing.  He hid the narrator, then 10, under a table during the fight in which he killed Gary Moore and for which he was imprisoned.  But he urges the narrator to avoid anything which might get him sent to gaol.  He says,  “Let them white blokes rub you in the dirt, spit on you, shit on you even.  But you keep right out of jail.  It’s a bad place in there, brother.”

There are numerous other details given about members of this extended family.  Peter and Coran are hiding at home, having absconded from work release.  They must have been near the end of their sentence in order to be on work release, and they are sure they will be sent back to jail, but knowing that, they have still tried to get away and return to the bosom of the family.

Sally, who has finished school and got a good job, is trying to escape from the family cycle by having a child by a white man and living with him away from the family.  But the narrator tells us that she “will be back. . . She can’t stay away from home forever.  No one can.”

Gloria, just 17, already has two children.  Their father is currently in jail but he still dreams of having a home of his own for just him, Gloria and the babies.  The narrator recognises that this is a dream unlikely to be fulfilled.

All of these snippets of the life of the Whitty family lead us to conclude that everyone who is a member of the family will be suspect whenever a crime is committed, that they will be treated unfairly by the police and the justice system, that no matter how much they try to assimilate and act “white”, they will never be accepted as white.  Since the cards are stacked against them, they need to take whatever they can, even if it requires stealing, just to get their fair sha re in their own land.

There is a large number of issues being dealt with in this story.  They include explorations of the prejudices of our society towards people of certain classes and status; the white domination of the legal system; the lingering effects of decades of oppression of Aboriginal people and their poor education; the irony that some white people can behave in worse ways but that their misbehaviour will be tolerated; the fact that white parents pass their prejudices on to their children; the fact that many people behave as though an action is only a crime if you are caught; the belief of the Aboriginals that if you are caught, you WILL go to jail; the effect of unbalanced treatment of Aboriginals by the media.

Questions:

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