Authors: Elizabeth Fensham
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction/General
Elizabeth Fensham lives in Victoria's Dandenong Ranges, where she teaches English at a local school. She is married and has two adult sons. Her first novel
won CBCA Book of the Year for Younger Readers.
Miss McAllister's Ghost
was published in March 2008 and
Goodbye Jamie Boyd
was published in September 2008.
the first book in the Matty series, was shortlisted for the CBCA Book of the Year for Younger Readers.
Bill O'Connell wanted permission to go camping for the weekend with his best friend, Matilda Grub, and her big brother, Tom. The deal with his mum, Pam, was that he had to clean out his room. It was a difficult thing to do because he had treasures that Pam did not think were treasures. For example, there was the snake's head in a jar of preserving fluid that Mat's nan had given Bill after he won Mat's dare to eat snake flesh. All that had happened over a year ago.
When Pam had found the jar with the snake's head in a box under Bill's bed a whole six months after the
snake-eating ordeal, she had let out such a scream. Mat, followed by her dog Uncle Len, came rushing over from next door to Bill's place after hearing the screams. Pam was not very reasonable about Mat's explanation to do with the pickled snake's head. She didn't think it was necessary to eat a snake to prove your courage, just so that you could join a club â a club with only two members. In particular, Pam did not believe Mat's assertion that snakes are safe to eat as long as you have checked that the snake had not bitten itself. So Mat had said, âIf you don't believe me, ask Nan. Kooris know these things.' And Pam had said, âI certainly will ask Nan.'
It was a slow process, this sorting of junk from treasures. Bill had a theory that exactly how slow depended on whether you were a girl or a boy, a kid or an adult, an outsidey type or an insidey type. He was an outsidey sort of boy. Bill collected things like bird nests, cicada shells, bits of wood that might make swords or spears, sports magazines and balls for every type of ball game imaginable. He also liked gadgets, whether they worked or not â watches, clocks, bits of computers, old tools. Hard rubbish collections were a
useful place to find treasures.
Sifting through old junk could be like opening a time capsule. Mat had buried a time capsule in her backyard just a month before. She had explained how she wanted some kid from the far distant future to understand the life of an ordinary Australian girl and boy. Bill, as usual, was expected to be part of Mat's plans â and he usually did think that her ideas were brilliant and interesting (although sometimes a little dangerous).
Mat had found an old biscuit tin with a picture of the Sydney Opera House on the lid. Into this, she placed a long letter that included hers and Bill's birth dates, their hobbies, and details about their families including âOccupations'. It was set out like this:
Bill had been anxious about how Mat would describe his dad's occupation. What do you say about someone who is in jail? Bill thought that you might write down what the person had done before they were sent to prison and just hint that they were not doing this now â something like âretired lawyer' or âbread baker â on leave'. But what do you say about someone who stole to make a living?
Bill thought people who stole things were mean, cowardly, lazy and very, very stupid. And, sadly, that's what he thought about his own dad, even though he still loved him. Bill also hoped that his dad being locked up would give him time to have a serious think about his life â how he had made Bill and Pam so sad and lonely. Anyway, Bill had been grateful and relieved when Mat had been thoughtful enough to record in the time-capsule letter that Bill's dad was simply âunemployed'. After all, that was sort of the truth.
Other than the letter, Mat had said that they were allowed to choose four items each to put into the time capsule.
The items Bill chose were:
Mat thought it natural for Bill to put in the cricket ball because cricket was something Bill was passionate about playing even if she wasn't. The five cents went in because he thought people from the future might have different money. Nan agreed. She said Australia had pennies and pounds in her day. Mat didn't think anyone in the future would be bothered with reading about a football game when all the players would be dead and gone, but Bill insisted on the newspaper article because he wanted the future to know about his sporting heroes. âThey deserve to be as remembered as Captain Cook,' said Bill. Luckily, both Bill and Mat agreed that the parrot feather was important. It came from their part of the hills in Victoria and maybe in the future the parrots might have become extinct.
The items Mat chose to include were:
Bill thought the idea about Mat's photos was brilliant. But he wasn't so convinced that chocolate crackles were something future generations really needed to know about. He told Mat that even nowadays people would not think that chocolate crackles were an important part of Australian society in the early twenty-first century. This turned into one of those occasions when Bill wished he'd kept his mouth shut because Mat gave him a five-minute lecture about chocolate crackles, finishing with: âThey happen to be the best party food in all of history.'
âHow do you know?' Bill had foolishly asked.
âJust do,' said Mat.
From past experience, Bill knew in all probability that Mat did know about the history of party food. He managed to smooth things over by agreeing that the lock of hair was the most interesting item. He kept quiet about the chocolate bar. He thought that a 50% chocolate theme in Mat's selection of items for the future suggested that she was feeling hungry when
she made her choices, but he didn't dare say that.
The time capsule didn't stay buried for very long. A couple of weeks later, Mat had dug it up because she wanted to eat the chocolate bar. Bill was present, of course. Mat had said that even a tin box would not properly preserve the chocolate even for a few weeks. Bill did not doubt the truth of this because Mat really was an authority on a great many topics. She shared the chocolate with Bill and they both buried the time capsule a second time.
Bill realised his thoughts had wandered. He was supposed to be getting his bedroom sorted and here he was dreaming away about eating snakes and burying time capsules. He was examining a sheet of paper he'd found in his drawer. It was the orginal draft of a letter he'd sent at the start of last year to Mrs Facey, his Grade Five teacher. Bill wondered if he had changed a lot between Grades Five and Six. On the whole, he felt he was pretty much the same person â just more sure of himself. He'd expected that going up a grade would feel more different.
Bill was now eleven and a bit years old. He was certainly taller. His mum said by the time he was an adult, he'd probably be about six feet tall like his granddad. But one thing was definitely different. The eczema had gone from his elbow. Bill's mum reckoned that this was probably because he was more settled and happy. Bill was certainly the happiest he had been in years.
The year before last, Bill's mum had been so miserable. He used to worry about Pam. His dad had never been around for long. You couldn't lean on the sort of person whose dishonesty is always getting him into trouble. There had been a lot of moving house. Until they arrived here in the Hills, Bill and Pam had never spent such a long, peaceful stay in the same place.
For one thing, Bill had had the time to make some really good mates at school â they played cricket on the oval every chance they got. Bill's teachers over the two years, Mrs Facey and Mrs Townsend, were awesome. He just had to look at the spelling in last year's self-introductory letter to Mrs Facey to know that his spelling had now improved. For example, at the start of Grade Five, Bill couldn't spell
and now he could.
Most important of all, Bill had a best friend like no other â Mat. And Mat's warm-hearted mum, dad, brother and nan had sort of adopted Pam and him. The two lots of neighbours really were one big, happy family. Pam was right, Bill was more settled, but Matty was never the sort of friend to let things be plain old âsettled' for long.