For my sister Jean who taught me to read at the age of five
and introduced me to the Public Library.
Many thanks to Phillip Adams for his little radio program
L’N’L and for the nightly dose of sanity he serves up in this world of
Thanks go to James Ivers (my podiatrist) for his critiques
of my writing and his cheerful enthusiasm and encouragement. The best footman in
Thanks to my editor, Julie Winzar, for her work on my manuscript.
About the author
Hugh Thomson was born in Scotland in 1941 and brought up in
the Gorbals district in Glasgow. On completion of an apprenticeship as a
tradesman engineer, he took off to the bright lights of London in 1962 where he
became involved in the folk scene, writing poetry and songs and performing.
In 1968 he came to Australia, curious about the country. He
bought an old Land Rover and, with his old battered guitar, spent some time
travelling around Australia.
In 1974 he was accepted into Newcastle University where he
completed an Arts degree in two years’ full-time study in Philosophy, History
and Literature. He taught History and English at schools but decided his future
lay in teaching Computing Science and returned to University to complete a
Post-Graduate Computing Science Education Diploma. He has had papers published
in University literary and historical journals.
He presented papers at a number of International and
National Computing in Education conferences and has written many papers and
manuals on the use of technology in education, specialising in robotics, and has
written texts used in the teaching of Computing Science. He was also a regular
contributor with short stories and music recordings reviews in the magazine
Stringybark and Greenhide in the 1970s.
A Dangerous Journey Home is his first novel.
Read a sample:
Bloody Hamish! How had I let him get me into this shit fight?
I was sitting in a cave in the side of a mountain in Barrington National Park. It was cold and I couldn’t start a fire. I looked at where I had hand-drilled the holes in the wall. The orange-coloured plugs in the walls of the cave made me uneasy and I decided I would sleep out in the open tonight. I picked up my swag and my bag, slung them out of the cave and leapt out after them, over the cave entrance, and ended up on my face in the dirt.
I opened the bag and found a comforting Mars Bar. I stripped the wrapping and set about chewing, then collected my swag and on impulse, picked up the shoulder bag with the journals in it. I put the last of the bread and cheese into the bag and walked up the hill to my lookout.
At my lookout point I sat on the log, took one of the journals out of the bag and started reading as the sun fell over the top of the hill. The journals were hard going. The writing was cryptic and disjointed. I could not make much sense of it. I was looking at an entry for the time of the Melbourne Moratorium where I first met Hamish.
Moratorm Capt Saunds! Recog? With child! robbie robbie child? is this the child? anoth innocent?
I closed the journal. The sun had finally rolled over the hilltop and a shadow cascaded down on me. I lay on the hillside wondering what Hamish meant by his cryptic notes. Why had I become Hamish’s best friend? Why had he made me a present of his disjointed and cryptic journals? Five years of his spasmodically updated events, adventures, and thoughts. He probably wanted me to write his story, but the bastard had got me up to my neck in this and the wolves were prowling.
In the still half-light I fell asleep to the raucous chorus of some yellow-tailed black cockatoos fighting over the last of the blossoms on a bush just outside the opening of the cave. They had kept me amused yesterday as they got drunk on the fermented nectar and clowned around outside the cave. Hamish said it was a bush tomato plant, but that could have been bullshit. It didn’t look like any tomato plants I had ever seen. That’s Hamish for you. When he was twelve, kids at school had given him some hemp seeds. He and his cousin had planted them in his Aunty Mary’s backyard veggie plot and as they came up, he convinced her that they were tomato plants.
A thick, hairy arm curled around my shoulder and someone on my left grabbed hold of my arm.
‘Sit down.’ One voice on the left and one on the right spoke in unison. I had no option. They both sat down at the same time and dragged me with them. The man on my right was big, with brown hair and an almost black beard.
‘Lock arms – through mine.’ The invitation came from a girl on my left. She had shining blue eyes, bright with excitement, blonde hair, possibly dyed, and was wearing a Greek fisherman’s cap festooned with badges. ‘Don’t let the pigs break you off.’
The snatch squad, as I later discovered they are called, were dressed in blue overalls which covered their uniforms. They had helmets, batons and no identification numbers. The girl beside me screamed ‘PIGS!’ and tightened her arm in mine. I didn’t mind that. I could feel her right breast squeezed up against my arm and thought, Nice. On the other side, Blackbeard had his arm through my right arm and his right hand grasped his elbow tightly. I was between a rock and a soft place. It would later turn out to be the other way round.
The struggle didn’t last long. A boot on my left shoulder forced the girl to break her grip on me. A large heavy snatcher was kneeling on Blackbeard’s chest and forcing him to let go.
I was frogmarched to a black van and shoved in with about nine other people. Most of them were singing the trademark chant of the Moratorium Movement.
‘ONE-TWO-THREE-FOUR, WE DON’T WANT YOUR FUCKING WAR’
A few were nursing bruises and scraped skin.
When the van stopped, the door opened and a young girl, who looked to be no more than sixteen, jumped down and grabbed hold of the young man who followed her. Parallel columns of baby-faced police channelled us into the station; each looked no more than nineteen or twenty years old. Cadets from training school, I guessed. They looked nervous. I could see tongues licking lips and feet shuffling. The young girl and her young man sat down on the pavement. They wrapped their arms around each other and started singing, ‘We shall not be moved’. Eventually a couple of snatchers grabbed the girl and dragged her into the station to raucous cheers and hooting. The rest of us were emptied from the van and channelled into the station.
The station foyer was already full. It was too small to contain all of us, so they pushed us along a corridor and told us to sit on the floor.
Someone yelled, ‘You can’t expect us to sit on the ground; you’ve just arrested us for that!’
We all cheered this objection but eventually we sat down where we could. I looked around and saw the bloke with the big hairy arms who had pulled me to the ground. He was talking to and laughing with a hippy guy whose hair was halfway down his back. The hippy was wearing a psychedelic shirt which hung in tattered rags from his back. I had seen him behind me at the demo.
I looked around for Dave and Felix, two students who had given me a lift down from Newcastle to the Moratorium in Melbourne. They had obviously escaped, as I would have if Blackbeard hadn’t grabbed me. I looked back to Blackbeard and he saw me.
‘Don’t worry,’ he waved his large hand, ‘the lawyers will be here shortly.’ I waved my hand and nodded in acknowledgement. It was the first time I had ever been arrested, but I guessed that it might not be Blackbeard’s first time.
A young cop was working his way along the corridor taking names and asking for ID. He didn’t get many IDs. He got a few Robin Banks, Ho Chi Minhs, Che Guevaras, Mickey and Minnie Mouses, Dick Standings, and Ben Dovers. It didn’t seem to faze him. He just wrote them down and moved on.
I took a cigarette from its packet and lit it. I had only taken a couple of drags when the young copper on corridor duty ordered me to put it out. I took another drag and when he started towards me, I ground it out on the floor. He leaned over and grabbed the packet out of my hands. The mob sitting around me set up a cry of ‘THIEF!’ ‘ROBBERY!’ and ‘GIVE EM BACK YOU THIEF! ARREST THAT COPPER!’
Five minutes later a door at the end of the corridor opened. Two men came out and stood for a while looking at the people sitting along the corridor. They spoke to the name-taking copper, then one of them opened his folder, looked at it and spoke to the name-taking copper who consulted his list of names. Then the younger of the two men from the back room walked up to me and told me to get up. He led me down the corridor to a room at the end. As I passed Blackbeard, I noticed he had his hand across his face and his head bowed down. It looked as though he was hiding his face.
The room had a small desk, two plastic chairs and a stool. The walls that were once blue were faded with large splotched areas that bore evidence of having been cleaned with high pressure hoses; probably to clean graffiti messages advising the world that those who ran the establishment were of a porcine species of humanity. They sat me in one of the chairs. The older bloke, who reminded me of an old headmaster from my primary school days, sat opposite me. The younger man sat about two metres away from the desk on the other chair.
‘What’s your name, son?’ the Headmaster asked. He spoke slowly and quietly as he pulled a packet of cigarettes from his jacket pocket. He slowly took out a cigarette, sat staring at it for a while as though terribly weary, then, with the cigarette between his fingers, beckoned to his partner.
The partner rose from the chair, moved to the headmaster’s side and produced a lighter. The Headmaster put the cigarette in his mouth and his sidekick sparked a long blue butane flame and held it to the cigarette. With the lighter still in his hands, he leaned over the table and examined my face closely. The lighter in his hand clicked on and off, like he had some kind of nervous tic. I looked at the Headmaster; he was waiting for my answer. I felt nervous. I told him my name. The Headmaster’s Gopher put the lighter away and went back to his seat by the wall. The Headmaster took a pen from his shirt pocket. He clicked it a few times, then wrote my name on a sheet of paper. He opened his folder, took out another sheet of paper and asked me to verify the spelling of my name and my date of birth. He looked down at the sheaf of papers that were contained in his folder and eventually finding what he was looking for, pulled a page from the bundle.
‘Where are you from, son?’ he asked, taking up the cigarette packet and turning it over and over between the thumb and forefinger of his left hand. Each time he turned the pack he tapped it on the table. My eyes were drawn to the movement, I couldn’t help myself, and I knew he was watching me closely.
‘Stockton, that’s in Newcastle,’ I said, and then added, ‘In New South Wales.’
‘I know where Stockton is, son. I lived in Newcastle for five years back in the fifties.’ He added the address I had given him to the piece of paper and handed it over to his Gopher who took it out of the room, shutting the door behind him.
The Headmaster looked at me, took a drag on the cigarette, and blew the smoke towards me. I could smell the semi-sweet and slightly acrid cigarette smoke and knew I was dying for more than just a little bit of second-hand smoke.
‘Why are you down here, son?’ he asked. He resumed turning the cigarette packet between his thumb and forefinger. The cigarettes were in a white packet with the words ‘Senior Service’ on them; an English brand not common in Australia. He continued to turn the cigarette pack and tap it on the table. My eyes were glued to it, I couldn’t help myself, but I knew he was watching me closely. He wanted my attention glued to the cigarette packet.
‘I came down for my cousin’s wedding.’ It wasn’t quite a lie, but it was close to it. I hadn’t wanted to go to the wedding, in fact I didn’t like my cousin very much. She was really stuck up, same as her mum, my mum’s sister.
‘When was the wedding?’ The Headmaster took another puff and still turning and tapping the pack, blew the smoke my way.
‘When was the wedding?’ he repeated.
I was feeling in my pockets for a cigarette, even a half-smoked one would do. Maybe one had fallen out of the packet in my pocket. The optimism of the addict had me trying every pocket and my nerves were demanding tobacco. And I had only been smoking for three years.‘Next Saturday,’ I sighed as I remembered the nearly full packet of cigarettes seized by the sticky fingers of the law in the corridor outside. I was wondering if I should ask for them back or demand them and refuse to answer question until I had them returned.
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