The surfing lifestyle of Sydney ’s northern Beaches of the 1970s and the country mindset collide when a talented sportsman is sent to an isolated small school near Wagga. 
Leaving behind his mates and his model girlfriend Sally, Matt Hanson takes on the task of becoming a successful teacher but finds it difficult to adjust to his new environment. In his school he is challenged by the needs of the semi-autistic Sammy while outside school there is his former team mate, Ron Barnes, a troubled Vietnam War Veteran who ends up in jail nearby. 
Matt’s personal life is complicated when the feisty Kate Macarthur appears and with the other colourful characters he meets, Matt goes on a rollicking personal journey until eventually he has to choose to return to his old life or break with his past and find his own destiny.

In Store Price: $AU31.95 
Online Price:   $AU30.95

ISBN:   978-1-921240-18-8
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 364
Genre: Fiction

By the same author:
Maid in Shepherd's Creek

Buy as a pdf  Ebook version - $AUD9.00

Author: Ken Little 
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2007
Language: English


Author Biography: 

Ken Little grew up on Sydney ’s northern beaches. He was a referee, coach and keen sportsman representing his district in cricket, rugby union and athletics. He went to school at Narrabeen Boys’ High and trained as a primary school teacher at Wagga Teachers’ College from where he was selected to play rugby union for New South Wales Country. He was appointed to a small school near Wagga and played with the local Australian Rules team. A crippling injury at the school saw him transferred to the Correspondence School in Sydney . While there he wrote three books in a series of school readers on Australiana called Bunyip Books. During this time he coached a sub district rugby team. Later he worked as an itinerant teacher based in Bourke where he visited students living on isolated properties.  

He returned to Sydney to study special education and taught special classes for the next 17 years. During that time Ken wrote musicals and plays for schools and church groups, completed a script-writing course and studied for a master’s degree in Ministry. At present he privately tutors primary and high school students as well as teaching children’s groups at church and has been a JP since 1993.  

He resides at Collaroy Plateau on the Northern Beaches with his wife Jenny, (a midwife). He has two children, Stephen, (a graphic designer), who is married to Dani, and Alison, (studying Primary education).

Chapter 1


Three miles in the dry and twelve in the wet



The chalk-coloured road was empty. The day was stifling hot. All was quiet except for the cry of a native bird. Strangled by the heat its song rose then soon faded away before it had even begun. A kookaburra replied, then stopped, its laughter breaking down into convulsive croaks. Even the breeze stayed away while the trees stood by limp and still. There was no sound to be heard, no whisper to listen to, nothing to wake to, except for a low but distant rumble. Louder and louder it grew, closer and closer it came until it arrived booming out of a billowing cloud of dust.

The late model car grew larger as it pushed onward through the cloud. Approaching a nest of trees it slowed down. The curtain of dust seemed to pause then settle as the car pulled over on to the grassy verge then stopped. As though exhausted by the heat it waited, dormant, until the driver’s door was suddenly thrust open. Out stepped a tall athletic looking man. He was in his mid forties but his hair was blond, his face unlined, and he looked years younger. He was dressed in a blue cotton shirt, jeans, and on his feet he wore riding boots. In his left hand he was carrying a small urn and a page from a newspaper. He bumped the door closed behind him then, leaning back, he took a deep breath. Pushing himself up to his full height he stared straight ahead then walked slowly over to the broken-down fence. There he paused and rested on a fence post, slowly shaking his head as he gazed at the sight before him.

The old wooden building stood there, vagrant like, alone and sad, grey timber peeping out through flaking paint. The red peaked roof chipped and cracked arched like a sentinel into the sky. Windows that once mixed light and dark with life and laughter, now stained and blinded by years of dust storms, stared back the emptiness that lived inside. Grass, which long ago had given up all pretences of being a serious lawn, had grown into scraggly knee-high tufts, brown and lifeless in the hot summer sun. The once smartly painted fence lay in disrepair, tumbled down by years of neglect while the iron gates that had once yawned open, like a discarded book, were rusted shut.

Matt Hanson’s eyes drifted sadly across the scene. Looking closely, he could just make out the faded sign, and by filling in the missing letters he knew were once there, he mouthed the word, “SHEPHERD’S CREEK PUBLIC SCHOOL .”

He found a broken down part of the fence and jumped over it. He headed through the knee-high grass towards a bare area in front of the veranda, while behind him he heard the car doors slam and the quick patter of children’s footsteps. As he stood in front of the veranda gazing at the building, he felt a small hand take his.

“It looks like the painting in the lounge room, Dad. Just like you said.” Surprise was evident in the teenage boy’s voice as he spoke. Four people stood there, staring silently at the building. Then the older girl spoke.

“Did Mark Twain really paint the picture?”

“Yes, he did,” Matt Hanson said with a smile. Shrugging, the two older children pattered off to find more interesting things to do behind the building.

“Is that where you used to stand, Daddy?” said the small child still holding her father’s hand.

“Sure is,” Matt replied softly.

They climbed up on to the veranda and tried to peer into the building through the dusty windows.

“Where are all the desks?” the little girl asked, disappointment in her voice.

“Long gone, Becky. Probably firewood by now.”

“That’s sad,” said the little girl wistfully. Matt could understand the tone in the little girl’s voice. All she had heard about for the last few months were stories about her dad’s first school. He had described every part of it in such a personal way that Becky felt like she had actually been there herself. And now his first visit back after twenty years was tinged with sadness.

“Why did you leave, Daddy?”

“They closed the school, Beck. They were closing down lots of small schools then. They still used the school, but as a pick up point for the kids. A bus came by and took them down to the school at Gratton. It was quite a trip for some of the little ones. Twenty-five kilometres is a long way in summer.”

“How old were you when you left?” Becky persisted.

“Twenty-four, Beck. I had just finished my third year teaching.” Remembering something else Matt continued. “It was reopened in the eighties, but I heard that it was closed down again just a few years ago.”

“Why didn’t you come back then, Daddy?”

Matt smiled to himself but before he could answer they were interrupted by a boy’s voice coming from behind the building.  

“Hey, Dad, here’s the water tank just where you said it would be.”

“You’ve got to see this Beck,” enthused Matt.

They hurried off the veranda to join Matt’s two other children, fourteen-year-old Luke and twelve-year-old Pip. There they gathered solemnly around an old water tank. It had been knocked off its stand and was lying on its side, its tap pointing uselessly into the sky. Matt still clutched the urn as he pointed to the top of the tank.

“That opening was covered with a wire mesh. I had to rip it off one day to dunk little Ricky Thomson in when his body overheated. And that was our only drinking water,” Matt added.

“Er, yuk!” said Pip screwing up her face.

“Dad! Is that Sammy’s tree?” Luke said suddenly pointing towards the back fence. They followed his gaze and stared at a large tree.

“Yes, it is,” said Matt wistfully.

They walked over to the tree. “It was only this high when Sammy planted it,” said Matt indicating waist high. “Now look at it after twenty years.” They gazed silently up at the seven metre tall gumtree. It stood there tall and upright, bold and defiant.

“Want me to dig the hole, Dad?” asked Luke.

“Go ahead Luke,” Matt replied. “Just next to the tree, and watch out for the roots. The shovel’s in the boot.”

“Is this where we’re going to bury the ashes, Daddy?” asked Pip.

“That’s right Pip. Right under Sammy’s tree.”

Luke returned from the car with the shovel and immediately began digging vigorously. Soon his forehead was dripping wet.

“Take it easy, Luke. Don’t want to bust your boiler in this heat.”

Then after a few moments Matt interrupted him again.

“That’s probably deep enough.”

The children stood back as Matt knelt and tipped the dusty contents of the urn into the hole. After a brief moment he stood up and motioned Luke to fill it in. Then he took the newspaper article with a photograph of a man and a woman on it, and tacked it to the tree.

“Aren’t you going to say something, Dad?” asked Pip.

“Nothing left to say, Pip. It’s all been said at the funeral.”

“I wish Mum could have seen it,” said Becky sadly.

“So do I, Beck. So do I.”

They stood there quietly staring at the small mound. Finally Luke looked up, and squinting, pointed straight ahead.

“Is that the farm where you stayed, Dad?”

They peered off into the distance, across a field of brown stubble, until they spied some distant white buildings.

“That’s it, Luke. See the building on the far left? That’s where Des Thomson penned Sheila.” The children laughed at that, obviously sharing in their father’s experience.

“And the other one near that big tree – gosh it’s grown over the years. That’s the house where I lived.”   

 “Which way did you drive to school Dad?” asked Pip.

Matt traced the route vaguely with his finger.

“Their house road went that way and was joined by the boundary track about there. Then I’d follow the track along the boundary fence over there behind that shed. The track swung around and followed Shepherds’ Creek to somewhere down behind those trees. Then I’d drive across the creek and come out on the school road about a kilometre down there.”

“That was in the dry wasn’t it, Dad?”

“Sure was, Pip. When it rained the creek ran a banker. You’d be silly to try to cross it, although I was silly once,” Matt laughed. “No, I had to go the long way round which was back up that road eight kilometres, down Poverty Lane then back down this road to school.”

“How far was that, Dad?” asked Luke.

“Well, we used miles then. The long way round was twelve miles but the short cut across the creek was just over three. When it was dry it would be three miles but when it rained, it was twelve.”

“You know Dad, you should write a book about your experiences here. You’d make heaps,” offered Luke.

Matt smiled. Maybe he would – someday. And if he did, he knew when his story would begin. Back in 1973 when he was eighteen. And he knew what he’d call it as well. He’d call it ‘Three Miles in the Dry and Twelve in the Wet’.


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