In 1950s Western Australia, relations are tense between whites and Aborigines. But for little Jimmy and his brother, Gun, it is a simple time to create their own fun, find trouble, and then wriggle their way out of it.
Gun is slick, popular, and seemingly indestructible. Jimmy is a skinny kid who cannot run as fast as Gun. But when their mum suddenly abandons the family one day, everything changes. After his father puts Gun in charge of caring for his siblings, Jimmy is left to wander the neighborhood. When fate leads him to an aboriginal girl, Jimmy is thrilled he has finally made a friend who likes him back. As Poppy teaches him aboriginal secrets like how to disappear, recognize an animal track, and uncover feed from a bush, her tribe takes Jimmy in like he is one of their own. But as the two cultures intertwine and the boys create strong friendships, Gun makes a decision that leads to valuable lessons and unthinkable new events as life changes once again.
In this action adventure tale, two brothers growing up amid 1950s Australia create a bond with aboriginals while on a unique journey of self-discovery enhanced by tribal folklore and magic.
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|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.43(d)|
Read an Excerpt
My Brother Gun
By James B. Clifton
Balboa PressCopyright © 2016 James B. Clifton
All rights reserved.
Gun charged into the breeze-way, spotted the big plywood box standing in the corner and yelled,
"There y'ar ya little redskin", without hesitation he pointed the rifle and shot into the box.
The problem was that I was hiding behind it because my four-year-old legs couldn't run another yard. I don't remember any pain as the bullet bored a hole in my leg but it must have hurt like heck because Gun reckoned I yelped so loud it scared the daylights out of him. It scared him so much he accidentally pulled the trigger again.
My ear was scorched and I vaguely recall the buzz as the bullet skimmed my left ear as I fell out from behind my hiding place, blood spurting from the hole in my leg, like a garden hose on full bore. When Gun saw it, cool as a cucumber and quick-as-a-flash he swore,
"Shit, Dad's gunna kill me."
He grabbed me and hauled me off to the laundry tub, stuffed the hole full of toilet paper then wrapped it up in one of my old nappies, tying it tight so that it had no choice but to stop bleeding. When he was finally satisfied I wasn't about to die, he slapped me over the ear for hiding behind the plywood box. The episode ended with Gun reinforcing one of life's lessons according to him '... brothers never dob on each other, no matter what.' His reinforcement was a hefty smack across the back of the head and a threat to kill me if I did dob.
Dad never noticed the bandage and Mum never mentioned it to him. It didn't pay to draw attention to these things.
My brother 'Gun' was one of those blokes you just had to like. That's not his real name of course. He earned it because everyone knew he was 'Gun' at everything he did (at least that's what he told me). Anyway our Dad was always yelling,
"I'm gunna kill that kid."
... I'm not too sure Gun's version was right.
Gun never shied away from a dare and was always inventing new ways to test a bloke's nerve. Dad was always cranky at him for something but Gun didn't care. He'd laugh it off and even when he did something really stupid and the old-man wanted to throttle him, he'd run away. Gun could run really fast and figured he'd hide until Dad calmed down. He'd get Mum to pass him food through the kitchen window until it was safe to come home.
I remember the time Gun and two of his mates were playing cowboys and Indians in a house our Dad was building. They tied a girl up to a hand-carved post inside the house, gathered wood shavings and set fire to them. Gun thought it added to the reality by having a virgin squaw burned at the stake as an offering to the Indian gods. The shavings caught fire but the three of them managed to escape in the nick of time - the house burnt to the ground. Dad was building it for the local cop and his son was the kid playing with Gun and the little girl. Gun swore it was the cop's son who burnt the house down and he added valour to his story by explaining he had seen the smoke and it was him who saved the other two kids. Gun was stupid sometimes, he should have known the other two would dob him in. To make things worse, the old man had stormed down to the cop's barrack house where he was staying until his house was finished, dragged the kid out of the house and gave him a flogging. The cop, who was a huge bloke, was pretty angry at our Dad. When the cop went to save his son, the old man got stuck into him as well, it took five cops to get Dad under control. He could fight my Dad could but for a bloke who thought he was smarter than everyone else, he never learned that Gun was the best fibber in town.
When they let Dad out of jail he was like a raging bull: throwing things around, smashing windows, he was so angry. Gun had taken off and stayed away for two whole weeks, getting Mum to pass him food through the kitchen window. He slept in Dad's truck as he usually did and and bided his time until it was safe to come into the house. The old man forgave him though ... eventually; his punishment was to help Dad rebuild the house.
Gun loved being with the old man, building things and being Dad's right hand man, he hated school though. He spent more time skipping school with his mates, scheming up new ways to test their nerve and creating havoc for all and sundry.
Gun was my hero. I wanted to be like him, slick, fast and popular, but I was a skinny little kid with blond hair and blue eyes and I couldn't run as fast as Gun.
We had a sister too but she was stupid and only wanted to play with dolls and pretend Mummy and Daddy. Gun wouldn't let me hang around with him much so I had to play with my slightly older but stupid sister. Sometimes she wouldn't let me hang around her either, especially when her friends came over to play. When this happened, I'd go off on my own adventures, wandering around the neighbourhood and checking out people's yards. Sometimes I'd come home with heaps of toys I'd found and Gun and I would play with them for hours. One time when it got dark, Gun made me take all the toys back to where I found them. I was so scared I was crying. I was sure the bogey-man was going to get me. Gun used to tell me things – you know, he was trying to teach me things – things our old man taught him. That was what he was doing while I was walking up and down the streets crying. I couldn't remember which house I had taken each toy from and it was dark and spooky and he was walking behind me, toeing me up the backside.
"Dad always says, when you do something wrong and get caught, own up to it and take your punishment like a man, right? Well you stole these toys and now you have to take 'em back and I'm not letting you come home until every last one of 'em are returned."
My Dad didn't talk to me much. I'd try to hide from him because he scared me. He had a wicked temper and used to drink a lot and smoke a pipe, he smelled of stale tobacco smoke and Old Spice aftershave and was stone deaf from a bomb blast during the Second World War. When he and my Mum had terrible fights, my sister and I would climb out of the window and hide until it was over. Gun used to go and try to break it up but sometimes he'd cop a black-eye or bruises too. He reckoned Mum knocked Dad out during one fight, knocked him out with a straight left to the chin. The old man was pretty drunk and when he came to, Gun told him he had knocked him out, he then ran. Dad was pretty chuffed at that and because he had been teaching Gun how to box. He also figured Gun might just have a future in the ring so he doubled Guns training and had visions of him as the world heavyweight champ. Gun loved it all but had real trouble being where he was meant to be at the right time. As Dad used to say, he had the '... attention span of a goldfish.'
In the mid 1950s we lived in a house Dad built in Fanny Bay, a suburb in Darwin. When electricity was introduced to Darwin in 1912, Darwin was the last Australian capital city to be connected and it wasn't until after the Second World War that electricity made it's way into private homes. We had electricity but our refrigerator was kerosene and we didn't have television because it didn't exist in our neck of the woods yet, not in Darwin and certainly not at our place. Our only source of entertainment was the radio and whatever we could organise for ourselves; we had open-air cinema with canvas seats and we got cartoons before the main movie and we didn't even have ceiling fans in our house. Darwin was a stinking hot-hole in summer and a stinking wet hot-hole during the wet season.
That's just the way things were, teachers caned you and made an example of you if you did something they thought deserved it and you took your punishment and showed no pain. Crying when you got into trouble was worse than wetting your pants. We learned respect the old-fashioned way, at the end of a stick, cane or belt and watch out if you left your manners at home. We made our own fun and often even made our own toys.
Before we moved to Darwin we lived in a small coastal town called Derby in Western Australia. We were raised with the local Kimberley aborigines and there were more than six different tribes that used to use our place on their way through. The locals thought we were aborigines because we ran around like wild things and were almost as black, probably from so much sun and dirt. Dad had a station back then and the Windjana people would appear and disappear like ghosts. They had magic and they taught us many things.
The Windjana people used to say that Gun had the dingo spirit. Dingo dreaming is the 'Trickster' or 'Loki' of Norse folklore and he represents our eagerness to experience new things. Dingo dreaming people live day-to-day, never plan anything and genuinely seem surprised when things back-fire, which they often do when Dingo dreaming spirits are allowed a free hand. On a more positive side, they generally have no fear, doubt or worry, are impulsive and spontaneous. Some people think they are flighty and uncaring which is not strictly true. Dingo dreaming people are friendly and are 'out there' but they lack social skills. This was Gun in a nutshell. You couldn't help but like Gun.
I grew up thinking there was only one local tribe that made up the Windjana people but this was only a term used to describe the six or more tribes that used common tracks and areas on their walk about south and then back north again. Dad had a special relationship with them all and they would rest a while on our station and work to replenish their supplies. It was a safe haven for them there and they knew they were welcome.
Legend has it that Aborigines were still hunted in Western Australia until quite recently the latest recorded case in Western Australia being in 1926. This was the last recorded official case but even in the 1950s and 1960s it was often spoken about that 'hunting parties' would track and shoot Aborigines, I'm not sure whether this was true or just fanciful ravings of drunk men. It is against this background one must understand that some white people frowned at my Dad because he protected them and counted them as friends.
Gun used to tell his mates that he had the 'Abo spirit' in him and that was one of the reasons he was so successful with things. Naturally this was total rubbish because Gun was born in England not Australia, still he certainly had something native in him that's for sure. Gun was a real ladies-man too, even when he was only about eight years old he was always chasing girls. One evening our Mum and Dad and several of their friends were having a social tennis afternoon, which really meant they were trying to play tennis and socialise while the kids ran crazy with no parents to supervise them. Tennis was played in a precise manner. Ladies wore knee length white skirts, short white socks and white sand-shoes, men wore long white trousers white long sleeve shirt, socks and white sand-shoes. It was very civilised. Gun reckoned Mum and Dad were trying to get in with the rich people.
As the afternoon went on and drew into evening, Mum must have realised that Gun was missing and so was one of the rich peoples young ten year-old daughter. They started calling out to them but there was no answer. The afternoon shadows disappeared and became evening dusk and suddenly it was dark and after half-an-hour of calling someone thought it might be an idea to turn on the tennis court lights. As the lights flooded the area the young girl came running out of the bushes screaming with Gun a short distance behind, shorts and undies down around his ankles. We never were invited to any social events again but my Dad thought it was hilarious. My Dad used to call Gun his 'chip-of-the-old-block.'
I wanted to be like Gun because he had scars all over him and could tell great stories to his mates about them, each time he told a story it became more and more gory and less and less about what really happened. I wouldn't dob him in to his mates though because Gun's stories just got better and better. He had a scar on the back of his leg the shape of a big 'Y' and one day his mate Roger asked him how he got it. There was a girl with red hair, pigtails, white skin (and I mean really white skin) and heaps of freckles standing there and Gun decided he liked her, so he beefed up his story a bit to impress her,
"So, we were playing cricket. I was batting and was on one-hundred-and-sixty when I belted the ball for six. We saw it land on the roof of a house way over beyond the boundary."
This was an obvious embellishment because Gun had hit the ball over and behind his head on the short boundary, about twenty yards behind him. He continued,
"Anyway, I shimmied up a drain and eventually spotted the ball in the gutter so I scurried over and without thinking, put my foot on the edge of the gutter. Next thing it gave way and I slipped over the edge, catching the back of my leg on the roof iron. Sliced through the back of my leg."
Everyone was spellbound including me and I'd heard this story at least six times. The redhead went an even whiter shade and I thought she was going to vomit, but Gun had more,
"I landed pretty hard and got the wind knocked out of me for a while. When I thought I could stand I tried but the back of my leg just fell apart."
The redhead was now green and her eyes were watery. We urged Gun on, this was gory stuff and we loved it.
"Well, I had to get home to get the leg fixed so I just scooped up all the gore and stuff, packed it back together and tied my leg up with shoe-lace, then shuffled home."
Everyone was suitably impressed. Gun was the toughest kid we'd ever known and you never messed with a kid that tough. The redhead girl was ill and couldn't wait to get away from Gun, she used to run whenever she saw him after that. He never meant any harm but he just couldn't resist a crowd or any opportunity to show off and if someone got hurt, well that wasn't his fault. Yep, you just had to like Gun because he was a tear-away, the larrikin, that cheeky bugger that seemed to always get away with things, always landed on his feet.
There was a side to Gun they never saw though, a side that would have destroyed his status in their eyes, or that was what Gun thought. It happened one night after Mum and Dad had a particularly loud and violent fight. Dad threw a plate of burnt food at Mum then stormed off to the pub. Gun had gone out to try to help Mum clean up and to offer her moral support. He came back to bed some time later and lay there sobbing. This was very strange to me, I had never heard or seen Gun cry and it frightened me, after all, Gun was bulletproof; he was indestructible. I climbed out of my bed and went over and got into his. I snuggled up and cuddled him as best as a six year old could. I was crying too because something awful must have happened or was going to happen to all of us for Gun to be so sad. Eventually he settled down, rolled over and faced me. His eyes were wet and dewy as he grabbed me by my pyjama shirt, he dragged my face very close to his and whispered,
"Mum is leaving Dad tomorrow and she's never coming back and it's all my fault ... or your fault ... or both our faults, I can't remember which, anyway, it's because we are such bad kids and Mum can't stand us any more, she can't stand the fights with Dad and so she's leaving tomorrow while Dad is at work."
I started to sob louder although I wasn't sure what it all really meant. I couldn't comprehend what I could have done that day that was especially bad but there it was, Mum was leaving because of Gun and me. Gun shoved his hand over my mouth to try to stifle the sound, the last thing we needed was someone coming in to check out what was going on. He told me to shut up or he'd smother me ... and I hated that feeling.
Gun made sure to get us to school on time the next day and he was on our bus after school to make sure we got home OK. When we burst through the back door, Dad was there in the kitchen, a sheet of paper neatly unfolded in his right hand. He turned as we rushed in to the kitchen,
"Your mother has left us kids" he said, "Packed up her things and shot through this morning it seems."
Excerpted from My Brother Gun by James B. Clifton. Copyright © 2016 James B. Clifton. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
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