Authors: Favel Parrett
‘A work by a new master. Like Winton’s
That Eye, The Sky
, Parrett’s debut is an uncompromising and memorable tale.’
‘Parrett’s debut marks the addition of a strong voice to the chorus of Australian literature.’
The Canberra Times
‘a finely crafted literary novel … genuinely moving and full of heart’
‘a fresh and vital voice in Australian fiction’
Australian Women’s Weekly
‘a small gem of a story’
‘a rare work of fiction’
‘An amazing book by a wonderful writer – Cormac McCarthy meets David Vann meets Favel Parrett. Read this book.’
‘clearly the work of a talented new novelist’
The Weekend Australian
‘her prose is as powerful as a rip’ WISH Magazine,
‘sparsely and simply told, with an unwavering clarity, Parrett’s controlled, unadorned narrative completely immerses the reader.’ Judges’ notes, Miles Franklin Literary Award
Published in Australia and New Zealand in 2011
by Hachette Australia
(an imprint of Hachette Australia Pty Limited)
Level 17, 207 Kent Street, Sydney NSW 2000
This edition published in 2013
Copyright © Favel Parrett 2011, 2013
This book is copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of private study, research, criticism or review permitted under the
Copyright Act 1968
, no part may be stored or reproduced by any process without prior written permission. Enquiries should be made to the publisher.
A CIP catalogue record of this book is available from the National Library of Australia.
978 0 7336 3049 1
978 0 7336 2770 5 (ebook edition)
Author photograph by David Kneale
Cover design by Josh Durham, Design by Committee
Past the Shallows
has been written with the encouragement of Queensland Writers Centre (QWC). Favel Parrett participated in the 2008 QWC/Hachette Australia Manuscript Development Program, which received funding from the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland.
This project has also been greatly assisted by the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) through its mentorship program; and the Copyright Agency Limited (CAL) with its support of the ASA mentorship program through its Cultural Fund.
To Linda – for always listening
It would be vain of me to attempt to describe my feelings when I beheld this lonely harbour lying at the world’s end, separated
as it were from the rest of the universe – ’twas nature and nature in her wildest mood …
ut past the shallows, past the sandy-bottomed bays, comes the dark water – black and cold and roaring. Rolling out the invisible
paths. The ancient paths to Bruny, or down south along the silent cliffs, the paths out deep to the bird islands that stand
tall between nothing but water and sky.
Wherever rock comes out of deep water, wherever reef rises up, there is abalone. Black-lipped soft bodies protected by shell.
arry stood on the sand and looked down the wide, curved beach of Cloudy Bay. Everything was clean and golden and crisp, the
sky almost violet with the winter light, and he wished that he wasn’t afraid. They were leaving him again, his brothers, Miles
already half in his wetsuit and Joe standing tall, eyes lost to the water.
Water that was always there. Always everywhere. The sound and the smell and the cold waves making Harry different. And it
wasn’t just because he was the youngest. He knew the way he felt about the ocean would never leave him now. It would be there
always, right inside him.
That was just how it was.
‘What should I find?’ he asked.
Joe shook his dry wetsuit out hard. ‘Um … A cuttlefish bone, a nice bit of driftwood …’
‘A shark egg,’ Miles said.
And there was silence.
Harry waited for Miles to say he was joking, waited for him to say something, but he didn’t. He just kept waxing his board.
So Harry stood up and ran.
He followed the marks of high tide left behind on the sand and his eyes skimmed the pebbles, the shiny jelly sacks, the broken
shells. Cuttlefish were easy but shark eggs were impossible. They looked just like seaweed. He kept thinking he’d found one
only to realise it was just a bit of kelp or a grimy pebble. There was hardly any point trying. But he did try. He always
found everything on the list. Always.
There was a cormorant gliding low, its soft white stomach almost touching the water, and Harry watched it as it moved. He
watched it slow down and land on a rock on the shore. He walked close, walked right up to the rock, but the bird didn’t move.
It just stayed still. And he’d never seen one alone. Not like this, on the land. They were always in groups, cormorants. Huddled
together in groups on the cliffs and rocks, long necks reaching up to
the sun. Sometimes they stayed like that all day. Together. Waiting and watching. Resting.
The bird called softly, and Harry was so close that he felt the sound vibrate inside him. He wanted to reach out and touch
it, to stroke the silky shimmering feathers down the cormorant’s back. But he stayed still, kept his arms by his sides. He
thought that maybe the cormorant was sick. That maybe it couldn’t find the others. And he didn’t know how they made it, how
they survived. Flying over all that ocean, flying and flying in the wind and in the rain. Diving into the cold water.
They washed up in the surf sometimes, the lost ones.
The bird called again. It bobbed its head up and down and spread its wings, then it was gone.
Harry left the beach and ventured into the dunes. Might find a good bit of driftwood in there or something interesting at
least. He ran up and down the small humps and valleys, the loose sand getting firmer under his feet, and he kept on going.
He could hardly see the beach anymore. It was further than he had ever been. He slowed down, started walking. He looked ahead.
There was some kind of clearing, small trees all around. Shrubs. It was a good sheltered place, the wind wouldn’t get in this
far even if it was
really blowing. You could camp here. You could stay here and it would be all right.
Behind a shrub, a pile of shells. A giant pile – old and brittle and white from the sun. Oyster and mussel, pipi and clam,
the armour of a giant crab. Harry picked up an abalone shell, the edges loose and dusty in his hands. And every cell in his
body stopped. Felt it. This place. Felt the people who had been here before, breathing and standing alive where he stood.
People who were long dead now. Long gone. And Harry understood, right down in his guts, that time ran on forever and that
one day he would die.