OUR AUSTRALIAN GIRL Series
It is always an exciting time when a book is about to be launched. MEET POPPY is the first in a series of four novels about an 11 year old Aboriginal girl. Poppy (Kalinya) and her brother Gus (Moyhu) live on Bird Creek Mission near Echuca in the colony of Victoria. The year is 1864. Poppys Aboriginal mother died when she was a baby, and her Chinese father disappeared before she was born. When Gus runs away to look for gold, Poppy decides to follow.
I will miss being with Poppy every day. Ive grown to love her as I share in her adventures, her hopes, her fears and her dreams. Sometimes a character is a constant source of surprise to the author, and Poppy has certainly been one of those characters for me.
A few hours later she was awakened by a terrifying howl.
Poppy sat bolt upright. Where was she? She felt around her. Oh, my nest. Her eyes adjusted to the dark. Then she gasped. In the moonlight she saw a large dog trotting towards the base of her tree.
She sat rigid, not daring to breathe as it came closer and closer. If it was a dingo, Poppy wouldn’t have been worried. Gus said dingos were more scared of people. But this looked like a wild dog, a very large wild dog.
The dog lifted his head and sniffed the air. He stood on his hind legs, resting his front paws on the trunk.
Poppy’s fingers closed around the hilt of her knife.
‘Good dog. Good boy. I’m only staying for one night.’ She spoke in a soft calm voice.
A low growl came from the dog’s throat and he laid back his ears.
‘Go on home, now,’ she urged. ‘I promise I’ll be gone by the morning.’ Poppy’s voice was shaking so she began to hum ‘The Bellbird Song’. The notes were soft and tentative at first but then she sang the words. To her surprise, the wild dog dropped to the ground and trotted away.
Poppy listened all night for the dog to return.
In the morning, she looked over the side of her nest. Tracks led around the tree, down to the water’s edge and back again. She looked up and down the river. Only then did she spot the dog, on the other bank.
Surely he couldn’t have swum that far!
Now was her chance to get away. She quickly climbed down then stood for a moment watching, the safety of the water between them. The dog was beautiful, with pale grey fur and a proud and noble head. He looked more like a wolf, but how strangely he was acting.
He was standing by a partially submerged log, not moving, just staring into the water as though admiring his own reflection. Then suddenly, he plunged his whole head under the surface. When he came up, he was holding a large flapping fish in his mouth!
Poppy couldn’t believe it. She watched as the dog placed his paw on the fish and began tearing at the flesh, snapping through the bones. After he had eaten every scrap – tail, head and all- he lay down, panting gently.
The dog looked at her but then he pricked up his ears and stared upstream.
It took Poppy a few moments before she heard it too – the soft chug chug chugof another paddlesteamer. Quickly she ran behind the big tree as the boat came into view. It travelled towards her and she saw people standing on the deck.
As it passed she heard snippets of their conversation about the goldfields and meeting up with relatives and friends. There was also mention of the gold at Beechworth and Rutherglen. Then, someone pointed and shouted.
‘Look at that massive brute! Anyone got a pistol? I feel like a bit of sport today.’
No! Don’t shoot him! Poppy wanted to yell. But she was too afraid they might shoot her for sport instead.
She looked at the dog, who remained in the one spot watching the boat.
The man took aim.
Poppy shut her eyes. Then she heard a gunshot ring out.