Gifts of the Peramangk

Gifts of the Peramangk

by Dean Mayes


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In 1950s Australia, during the height of the divisive White Australia Policy, Virginia, a young Aboriginal girl is taken from her home and put to work on an isolated and harsh outback station. Her only solace: the violin, taught to her secretly by the kind-hearted wife of the abusive station owner. However, Virginia's prodigious musical gift cannot save her from years of hardship and racism.

Decades later, her eight year old granddaughter Ruby plays the violin with the passion Virginia once possessed. Amidst poverty, domestic violence and societal dysfunction, Ruby escapes her circumstance through her practice with her grandmother's frail, guiding hand. Ruby’s zeal attracts the attention of an enigmatic music professor and with his help, she embarks on an incredible journey of musical discovery that will culminate in a rare opportunity. But with two cultural worlds colliding, her gift and her ambition will be threatened by deeply ingrained distrust, family jealousies and tragic secrets that will define her very identity.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781926760803
Publisher: Central Avenue Publishing
Publication date: 10/01/2012
Pages: 344
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.77(d)

About the Author

Dean Mayes is a Pediatric Intensive Care nurse who is fascinated by the paranormal, so his stories weave an element of magical realism with deep humanism. He grew up near Melbourne, Australia, the setting for his new novel The Recipient, but now lives in Adelaide with his family and dog, whom he loves with great passion along with cooking, Star Wars and a great joke.

Read an Excerpt

Gifts of the Peramangk

A Novel

By Dean Mayes, Lisa Mazzucco

Central Avenue Marketing Ltd.

Copyright © 2012 Dean Mayes
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-926760-81-0



Golden beams of a mid afternoon sun knifed down through the canopy of a weeping willow, whose leafy fingers swayed back and forth above a water hole. Silent explosions of light danced across the sunlit water like glittering fairies until they disappeared on the craggy shore.

This simple ballet regenerated itself, sustaining a hypnotic dance of light and movement which was reflected in the eyes of a child that sat on the bank of the water hole, just forward of the main trunk of the willow tree. Transfixed by the beautiful dance, she tilted her head, allowing the light show to carry her imagination away.

The girl was slight, rake thin, with shining, raven black hair and coffee brown skin. She blinked as the sunlight dazzled her vision and the shimmering light danced across her powdery skin, her flawless cheeks.

She wore a simple cream coloured dress with a lilac flower print. The contrast with her skin was as incongruous as it was pretty. She sat hunched forward slightly, her sinewy legs outstretched, her bare feet exposed to a pocket of sunlight that peeped through the canopy of the willow. Her soles were uncharacteristically tough and leathery in comparison to the rest of her skin — the result of rarely wearing any form of footwear. Not that she was in any way aware of this at her age. For Virginia was only eight years old.


Virginia's eloquent reverie was suddenly and abruptly broken when something — or someone — hit the water in front of her like a bomb, throwing up glittering cascades of water that drenched not only Virginia, but two of her companions who had been lying beside her, sunning themselves.

"Bloody hell!" Virginia squeaked, as a similarly lithe and dark young figure erupted from the water wearing a huge grin. "You're a menace, Bobby!"

Virginia stood up, arms outstretched, her dress soaked as the shock of the cool water dissipated but was replaced by the awkward feeling of wet clothing stuck to her skin.

She cursed under her breath, inadvertently inhaling some of the water that had splashed across her face. She coughed and spluttered for several moments, wiping furiously at her face.

Virginia had had enough fun in the water for today. Having only recently recovered from a prolonged bout of bronchitis, she had been swimming, jumping and playing in the cool water for the better part of the morning — when the sun's warmth was at its peak. Virginia was exhausted now and thus was happy to relax on the shore and watch the others frolic in the water, swing off the rope and tyre swing that hung from one of the boughs of the willow and sun themselves on the shore.

Stifling her cough, Virginia maintained her steely grimace a moment longer before her facade cracked. Bobby flashed a broad, cheeky smile and she returned it in kind. He then flipped himself into an effortless duck dive and disappeared below the surface. Virginia shook her head then balled her fist to her chest.

There were seven of them in all, a mixture of Aboriginal and Caucasian children: four girls — three of whom sat on the shore, including Virginia, and one in the water — and three boys. They ranged in age from six to thirteen years old. They were as close a group of friends as one could find. The children lived a carefree existence in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia, revelling in the temperate climate of the ubiquitous Australian bush and the rolling green pastures that were defining features of their homeland.

It was an uncharacteristically warm autumn Saturday. The unexpected, extended summer weather gave the children plenty of extra lazy days by the waterhole, their favourite place in the whole world. The boys had built a ramshackle fort here, from pieces of discarded iron and timber that lay nearby. The rope swing that hung out over the water within easy reach was a particularly proud achievement for Bobby who had managed to procure the rope after several failed attempts.

As Bobby surfaced several feet away from where he had executed his dive, Virginia sat down once more, crossing her legs in one effortless motion as she smoothed out her dress before her.

Her companions, who were tying an impressive length of daisy chain, admired her summer dress silently. One of the girls quickly reached out with her hand to billow out the material behind Virginia, to prevent it from crumpling underneath her as she plonked down on the ground.

"Your mum's done such a good job with that dress," one of the girls remarked languidly as Virginia picked up the length of daisy chain before her and assessed her handiwork.

She smiled bashfully, glancing at her friend, Lucy, beside her.

"Mum is a good seamstress. Mrs. Stinson gave her this material months ago and Mum has been working on it, little by little ever since. Mrs. Stinson is good to us."

The Mrs. Stinson Virginia referred to owned the haberdashery in Totness' main street and employed Virginia's mother there as a shop assistant and seamstress. Her mother's work was, in fact, quite well regarded throughout the district.

"Has your father seen it yet? Have you sent him a photograph?"

Virginia bowed her head and shook it meekly.

"We don't know if he got the parcel Mum sent yet," she responded quietly, glancing sideways at her second companion, a slightly chubby Caucasian girl named Rita, on the bank. "We sent him photographs weeks ago but we haven't heard anything."

"Is your mum worried? I heard the men in the pub talking the other day, saying that lots of soldiers are getting hurt in Karea."

Rita reached around behind Virginia and poked Lucy in the ribs, causing the younger girl to jump where she sat.

"It's Korea!" she scolded disapprovingly. "And don't be so nosey."

Virginia's eyes glazed for just a moment — but it was enough of a moment for the girls to notice that she was worlds away from them. Rita gently placed a hand on Virginia's shoulder and smiled.

"Don't worry, Ginnie. He'll be alright. He's a big fella and he knows how to look after himself."

Virginia looked at Rita and managed a wan half smile in return.

"I miss him," she said simply, pausing to stifle another coughing fit from the residual water she had inhaled earlier. "Mum really misses him. It's been weeks since we've heard anything. Sometimes I hear her crying at night. I wish he would come home."

Virginia's father was a soldier, an Anzac, serving in the far off country of Korea in a war that Virginia and her mother could barely understand. He had been gone for many months; so long in fact that Virginia feared now that she was struggling to remember him. She desperately missed the sound of his voice, especially his singing voice which was lovely and deep and soft and told the stories of his people — the Peramangk Aborigines of the Adelaide Hills — that had been passed down through generations. She remembered his hands too — large, dark leathery hands that were strong at work but also incredibly tender and soft when he held her own small hand in his. The township of Totness held him in high regard and they were protective of his young family.

From far above the trio, high up in the boughs of the willow tree, an unsettling bird call issued forth suddenly, causing all three of the girls to jump where they sat.

"What was that!?" Lucy exclaimed, startled.

"I don't know," Rita replied, rising to her feet and craning her neck to scan the upper reaches of the willow tree.

Virginia rose with her and together they watched for any movement. The unsettling bird call sounded once more, a deep undulating cry — almost like the sound of a crying baby. The sound was enough to stall the children in the water and all of them stopped their splashing for a moment, treading water in silence.

There was a flash of movement. Then, suddenly, a single small grey bird dove into view, launching itself from the high up bough. It dived down in a graceful arc before peeling away over the water hole toward a eucalyptus on the other side where it had spied a suitable branch upon which to land.

Virginia watched the bird intently, following its flight path as it angled out over the water hole. It cried out a third time, sending a chill through her. She had never heard anything quite like it before.

"It's a Mingka bird," Bobby said evenly, from his vantage point in the water.

"What's that?" Albert, his companion treading water beside him, exclaimed.

"Well ... I — um. It's a ... I dunno exactly what it is," Bobby stammered. "But my nana told me a story about it once. She said it's a bird that cries whenever somebody is about to die."

Both Lucy and Rita gasped and Rita put her hands on her hips angrily. She flashed Bobby a withering glare from where she stood.

"Bobby!" she hissed. "You can't say things like that!"

Rita nodded her head subtly in the direction of Virginia, so that she couldn't see.

Bobby's expression faltered as he eyed Virginia, who was still staring up at the bird. She gave the impression that she hadn't heard him. The bird cried out once more, its unsettling warble carrying across the water hole.

"Well, I never meant that Ginnie's dad was gonna be ... you know ..." He paused, sensing that he was digging himself further into a hole. "B-besides ... its cry isn't deep enough. It has to be a deep cry if a man is going to die. That cry sounds lighter ... more like for a woman. Not a man."

Bobby's words sounded distant to Virginia; her eyes were fixed on the bird far above her. Suddenly, she didn't feel like being here at the water hole any more.

"I think I might go and see Mum," she said flatly. "She should be finished work soon."

Virginia bent down, picked up her towel from the ground and brushed it down with her hand. Both Lucy and Rita were glaring disapprovingly at Bobby while his companions — Albert, Vaughan and Edith — turned away from Bobby and swam to shore. Their splashes caused the bird to take flight once more. It issued one final cry, then disappeared over the canopy of the willow tree and was gone.

"We'll come with you, hey?" Rita offered, nodding firmly at Lucy out of sight of Virginia. "Maybe we could get some ice cream."

Virginia managed a meek smile as the children from the water gathered around her.

They sauntered along the path that flanked the main street, heading to the sleepy township of Totness. The girls had managed to coax Virginia back into conversation while Bobby hung back a little, having been stung by their scolding of him earlier. The prospect of an ice cream however, rendered the unpleasant encounter almost forgotten and the group skipped along happily.

Totness' main street was quiet, as it almost always was. The tranquil hamlet, nestled among the patchwork meadows, was by its very nature a sleepy township. It seemed a world away from everything. It served a community of rural folk — farmers, graziers, grain growers, small holders. They were people of the land who knew the land well and worked it with an almost reverential respect.

As the children walked along under the tall plane trees that lined both sides of the street, they chattered and laughed enthusiastically and Virginia joined in, having now forgotten the earlier events. The boys rough-housed with one another while the girls continued their earnest discussion about their impressive daisy chain and what to do with it once they got it safely home. They chattered excitedly about what flavoured ice cream to treat themselves to at the general store. The discussion then drifted back to Virginia's father.

"My dad says that this war is no good for anyone," Lucy remarked, surprising both Virginia and Rita somewhat since their smaller companion had, until now, remained painfully quiet. "He says it will go on for a long time and lots of men will get hurt."

"Well — it won't be my dad," Virginia declared firmly. "My dad promised me that he will be home as soon as he can. He said it was important for him to do his part — that he serve this country."

"Your dad has always been a hard worker," Edith, one of the Caucasian girls, observed proudly. "I know my dad misses having him working on the farm. No one milks cows like your dad, Ginnie — or fixes fences, or even rides horses! My dad can't round up the cows on his horse. He keeps falling off!"

Virginia smiled warmly at Edith as they approached the general store and stopped before the entrance.

"Now," Bobby said, gathering the children into a circle and fishing around in the pockets of his shorts. "Let's put all of our money together and see what we've got."

Each of the children reached into their pockets and purses to add their own coins to Bobby's. Some of them had less than the others but it didn't matter, for these children looked after one another regardless of who had more or less.

Virginia looked crestfallen as she fidgeted nervously on the spot. Evidently, she didn't have any money of her own to contribute.

"Don't worry Ginnie," Bobby reassured her. "I'll cover for you."

"No!" Virginia retorted firmly. "I won't let you."

Hesitating, Virginia turned to face the small haberdashery directly across the street. She spied an attractive woman in the window, with raven black hair similar to Virginia's, tied back in a bun. Her flawless nut brown skin was lighter than Virginia's. Her facial features were soft, angelic. The woman wore a pretty floral dress underneath a crisp, linen apron. She was arranging some rolls of material in the window display and, upon seeing Virginia she smiled broadly. She waved her in through the glass. Virginia bounded across the street, entered the shop and immediately went to the woman.

"Ginnie!" the woman beamed, leaning down to embrace the child.

"Mum!" Virginia wrapped her arms around her mother's shapely neck.

"Well, look at you. You're all goose pimply from that swimming hole."

Sylvia Crammond brushed down her daughter's summery dress that she herself had made and gently pinched Virginia's arm.

"I hope you've been behaving yourself down there."

Virginia nodded eagerly and gestured through the window at her companions outside the general store across the street.

"Everyone wants to get an ice cream, Mum. I don't have any money to get one."

Virginia eyed her mother plaintively as Sylvia regarded her daughter with mock scepticism.

"Well ... I don't know if you should be having such things so close to dinner, young lady. You'll ruin your appetite."

"Aww, Mum," Virginia pleaded. "I promise I'll eat my dinner — all of it — even my vegetables."

Sylvia cocked her head, levelling her suspicious glare before smiling once more. Reaching into the pouch of her apron, Sylvia drew out a single silver coin, proffering it to Virginia.

Virginia's eyes went wide and she gasped with delight. Sylvia dropped the coin into her daughter's hand as Virginia planted a kiss on Sylvia's cheek.

"Thank you, Mum!" she beamed.

Sylvia drew her daughter away and held Virginia out before her. She lovingly smoothed down Virginia's dress, frowning only half seriously at a couple of dirty stains from the water hole.

They were extremely close. The absence of her husband had taken a toll on Sylvia though outwardly, she had never revealed it. Sylvia had become accustomed to maintaining her stoic demeanour for the sake of her daughter whom she knew missed her father terribly. They carried on as best they could with the support of a select group of towns-folk who watched out for Sylvia and Virginia.

"I'll be finished here soon," Sylvia assured her daughter. "Go and get your treat and hang about until I finish. Then we'll go home and make our dinner."

Virginia nodded then diverted her eyes over her mother's shoulder as a tall and stately woman breezed into the room from the back of the shop. She was armed with a cup of tea.

Mrs. Stinson stood nearly six feet tall. She was reed thin with piercing, owl-like eyes and a prominent nose that was turned upward slightly. She wore a dark dress under her own apron, her greying hair was pulled back in a severe bun and she looked, for all the world, like a very harsh person. But when Mrs. Stinson smiled, all trace of rancour disappeared and her face lit up.

"Well good afternoon, dear child!" Mrs. Stinson greeted in a perfectly clipped accent. "You do look as though you've had a most wonderful time."

Setting her cup down on the counter top, Mrs. Stinson rounded it gracefully and swept over to Virginia and her mother, cupping Virginia's cheek in her hand in a motherly gesture.


Excerpted from Gifts of the Peramangk by Dean Mayes, Lisa Mazzucco. Copyright © 2012 Dean Mayes. Excerpted by permission of Central Avenue Marketing Ltd..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Gifts of the Peramangk 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Dr-Bob-Rich More than 1 year ago
This book reminds me of Angela's Ashes. Both expose great hardship, and are anthems to the human spirit triumphing over adversity. Actually, I like Gifts Of The Peramangk more, because the language is far more lyrical, and because it celebrates the joys of music while Angela's Ashes is uniformly bleak, until the one-word last chapter. I hope Dean Mayes achieves the same success as Frank McCourt did. He writes from the heart, and with heart. Characterisation is excellent. The plot is gripping, full of tension and interest. The parallel stories of two little Aboriginal girls, 50 years apart, meld together beautifully, sadly, giving a perfectly accurate picture of the past and current troubles of these mistreated survivors of genocide. He also shows how the symptoms of victimisation can be overcome. Not all Aboriginal people have the gift of the musical prodigy, but all can take pride in culture, and prove themselves as good as anyone else, despite discrimination and prejudice. There is another reason I compared this book with Angela's Ashes. I found that book very difficult to read at first, because of the complete lack of quotation marks. An ordinary story would have been sunk by such a technical fault, but the content triumphed over the format. Dean uses quotes faultlessly, but I had problems with two choices of presentation: head hopping and info dumps. That is, he doesn’t keep to the point of view of any particular character within a scene, and he frequently passes on information from the outside, as the author. Both of these are to be avoided for several good reasons. However, as I said, the magnificent content overrides issues of presentation. This is  a must-read book.
CharDixon More than 1 year ago
This is a moving book. And if I am honest, it is not one I would have picked up myself had I been browsing in a book store. I read to escape and take myself away from the real world. To immerse myself in fantasy. This means that as a general rule I don’t go for heavy historical fiction steeped in strife. When this came my way as something to possibly review I almost turned it away – but the underlying musical aspect intrigued me. I’m glad I didn’t pass. This was an amazing book. And I was fairly shocked to reach the end, see the author’s picture and realize it was written by a dude. We drift between the life and realities of 2 different characters. Ruby and Virginia. Virginia’s story starts in the 1950′s in the Australian bush. Not a lovely fun time to be one of the native peoples there. I am ashamed to admit I knew next to nothing about the inequities and hardships faced by aboriginals in Australia. The harrowing journey of a young Virgina and the circumstances surrounding her young life are heartbreaking. As we watch her growup much to fast it is hard not to yell at those who visit cruelty upon her or stand by and do nothing to stop it. Young Ruby does not have an easy life either here in our present, but there is one large differing factor. Ruby has a grandmother who loves her and fights for her. And it makes all the difference. The harsh reality that surrounds her is made bearable by the love and support of her grandmother and cousins. Now I mentioned music earlier, and it plays a very important role in this story. Both of our main characters find joy, meaning and escape in music. Specifically the violin. The way music and a specific musical instrument are used almost as a character in this novel is flabbergasting. There is a palpable thereness to the violin as a sentient object – a receptacle for the hopes and dreams, fears and secrets of those who play it. As I am sure you have guessed these 2 stories intertwine – the past and the present meet. I will not spoil any of that for you – but it is beautifully done. The ugliness that each has suffered and endured, and for one of the characters inflicted on others, would win in so many real life stories. Seeing how it can be smothered and overcome is an inspiration. Well done Mr. Mayes. I was provided a gratis copy for review.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Gifts of the Peramangk is not like most books that I read. I tend to like light-hearted stories with romance. If you add a hint of paranormal, then I'm hooked. Gifts is not that type of story, yet I was hooked. And I do mean hooked. Mayes posted a snippet of the book on his blog months ago. His words are more like a spell that a passage in a book. When you read them, you are there smelling the same flowers, feeling the same sunshine, listening to the same breeze in the trees. To say Mayes is talented is an understatement. I don't like reviews that give too much away about the plot, so if you're looking for something that outlines everything in the book, you will be disappointed. Instead, let me tell you why this book hooked me. Mayes dives into a very real, and heartbreaking situation. He plunges head first into the murky waters of racism- that past and the present- and rolls around in it, letting us experience it alongside his characters. We see how the sins of the past have helped shape the present, creating an abyss for those that are descendant of the Aborigines. But in that terrible place of pain and suffering, struggle and hardship, is the story of humanity. Kindness can blossom in the strangest places. Strength can be found when most needed. And clarity can come in many guises. In the dark, painful past, a little girl finds her love of music. Amidst slavery and horrible abuse, she finds a friend that encourages her passion and skills-- someone that has a heart of gold. In the future, you see that gift passed down through bloodlines, the struggle to have it nurtured, understood by those around her. As those around little Ruby Delfoy, struggle to pull themselves out of the sink-hole that is their lives. In one little girl and her gift, they find salvation of different sorts. Relief, peace, understanding, strength, leadership. All of that can blossom in the darkest garden. THAT is the story that Mayes shares with us. Be prepared to cry, smile, and laugh. I loved the look into the history of Australia and the Aborigines. There is a wide supporting cast, each present for a reason, just like in life. They all have their own voice, their own reasonings and the story is woven together beautifully. If you enjoy stories about life, down and dirty, REAL life, then this is the book for you. Buy your copy, read it, and leave a review. The story will leave you thinking-- the ultimate sign of a good book. (In my opinion, of course.) *This book was given to me for my honest review. Which I have posted here. -NChase