A moving novel about a teenage boy's coming-of-age amid the pressures and hardships of the Great Depression
13-year-old Joe Riley lives with his violent father. When his hometown is hit by the Great Depression, his family gets involved with illegal activites to make ends meet. Joe is then sent to live at a Catholic boarding school, where he is faced with new hardships that further test his resilency and character. This is an unsentimental portrait of the 1930's Great Depression era. Impeccably researched and accessible, strong topics—including the realities of the Great Depression, domestic violence, and sexual abuse—are dealt with sensitively and at a level suitable for a young reader.
|Publisher:||Allen & Unwin Pty., Limited|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.80(d)|
|Age Range:||12 Years|
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Racing the Moon
By Michelle Morgan
Allen & UnwinCopyright © 2014 Michelle Morgan
All rights reserved.
What a year! Don Bradman scored 334 runs in the Third Test against England, the half-arches of the Sydney Harbour Bridge finally met in the middle, Phar Lap won the Melbourne Cup, and Harry and I went into the egg business together. Harry's been my best friend for as long as I can remember. We catch the train every Friday after school to Uncle George's chook farm to pick up two boxes of eggs – that's twenty dozen or 240 eggs. We get them at cost price for a shilling a dozen and sell them for two shillings. Not bad for a couple of Glebe boys on the wrong side of thirteen. There are no overheads – even the train fare's free. We're not breaking the law because there's never anyone to collect our tickets at Rooty Hill station.
Harry and I have food rationing to thank for our thriving business. Eggs are as scarce as hen's teeth. You line up for hours with your food voucher and by the time you get to the top of the line, there are none left. Good old Uncle George!
'Selling eggs shouldn't be a crime,' Dad says, 'and if you don't get caught, it won't be.'
Dad really knows his stuff. He bought and sold Uncle George's eggs until his illegal bookmaking business started taking off. It might be the Depression, but there are plenty of opportunities to make money. The world is my oyster! Dad hasn't looked back and neither will I. Friends, neighbours and total strangers come to our house at 51 Abbey Road every Saturday morning to buy 'Joe and Harry's Extra Large Farm Fresh Eggs'. That's what we painted on the back fence. And 'Home deliveries free of charge'. You've got to have the edge over your competitors to stay ahead of the game.
Climbing the side fence into Old Billy McCarthy's yard to deliver his usual dozen eggs, I heard someone screech, 'Shameful, just shameful!' The voice was human but bird-like, a cross between a kookaburra and a cockatoo. Old Billy stopped pruning the hydrangeas with his rusty shears. I looked around, half-expecting to find a strangled chook hanging upside down from Old Billy's clothes line, but instead saw Miss Ruxton peering over her front fence. She's a scary old lady who moved across the road a couple of months ago.
'Who are all those men coming and going like dogs on heat through the Rileys' back fence? I've been watching them every Saturday since I moved here. It's shameful, just shameful!' she called out to Old Billy. Miss Ruxton's glasses magnified her brown eyes, making them look really big and too close together.
I tried to look invisible, but I was stuck between a rock and a hard place.
'Good morning, Sybil,' Old Billy replied. 'What a glorious day! You're looking very beautiful.'
What's wrong with that man's eyesight? I thought. I nearly choked trying not to laugh, then I started coughing and couldn't stop. The eggs were bumping together inside the newspaper parcel, so I quickly handed them to Old Billy. My face was burning and my eyes felt like they were ready to pop.
Miss Ruxton was pointing at my house. 'I know what goes on in there. I wasn't born yesterday!' She smoothed back her feathery wisps of grey hair to reveal cheeks almost as crimson as the lipstick that was smudged around her beak-like mouth.
'You've got the wrong end of the stick, my dear,' Old Billy replied, patting me on the back to help ease the coughing. 'The Rileys are a good Catholic family, except for Arthur, of course, he's Church of England. Young Joe here's an altar boy.' Old Billy pointed his rusty shears at me, nearly poking me in the eye, and then put them down to unwrap the eggs. 'Look at these beauties! Joe sells eggs for his Uncle George. Has a farm out west somewhere. Why don't you order some? Guaranteed double-yolkers in every dozen!'
Miss Ruxton crossed the road, looking at me with those piercing eyes, sizing me up. 'Eggs? All those men come through your back fence to buy eggs? What's that wireless for, then? It blasts away all day, every Saturday. Eggs, you say? You can't fool me.'
I didn't know what to say, then Old Billy came to the rescue. 'I'm not sure what you're getting at, my dear. Arthur and Betty are keen as mustard on the races and they've got the best and clearest wireless in Abbey Road.'
'Tell me about it!' Miss Ruxton opened Old Billy's gate, staring at me the whole time. I started walking backwards but I couldn't get away from those eyes.
'Stand still, boy, I'm not going to bite, I just want to look at you. Tell me the truth. Do all those men come to your place every Saturday to buy eggs and listen to the horse races on your wireless?'
I nodded. 'Yes, Miss Ruxton.' True, of course, but only half the story.
'You'll have to excuse me, Sybil. I have to pay a boy for some eggs,' Old Billy said, tipping his hat – he's a true gentleman. Reaching into the pocket of his overalls, he then handed me two shiny new shillings. I rubbed them together. Cash in my hand always gives me confidence.
'Let me know when you want some eggs, Miss Ruxton,' I said. 'Special delivery for the prettiest lady in the street!' Old Billy winked at me before going inside.
'You're quite a salesman, young man. Put me down for half a dozen. No broken ones, mind.'
'You bet! I'll deliver them to you free of charge every Saturday morning. Total cost, one shilling.' Another happy customer, I thought as I watched her cross the road back to her house. But I'd better stop throwing stones on her roof – bad for business.
I'm saving up to buy Mum a cottage by the sea. She's been talking about it for as long as I can remember. She wants to hear the ocean roar and look out her kitchen window to see the waves rolling in, just like she used to. Mum grew up in a fishing village on the south coast, and hasn't been back since she ran away with Dad sixteen years ago.
The wireless blaring isn't the only noise coming from our house. There's lots of shouting and arguing most days. Old Billy used to break up the arguments between Mum and Dad until last year when I took over the job. I'm nearly as tall as Dad, and not nearly as scared of him as I used to be. I'm the second tallest boy in my school but not for too much longer. I'm off to high school in a few weeks.CHAPTER 2
Saturday is race day – it starts like any other day then the tension starts to build. There's important work to be done, and the sooner we get breakfast and chores out of the way, the better.
This Saturday you could have cut the tension in our place with a knife. Dad got home late the night before and Mum was giving him the silent treatment. It was the Anniversary Day long weekend with races on Saturday and Monday at Randwick Racecourse to celebrate the landing of Captain Arthur Phillip and the First Fleet on 26 January 1788. Dad was going to be flat out all weekend. The big races – the Anniversary Handicap and the Adrian Knox Stakes – were on Monday with big prize money for the winners. The Adrian Knox Stakes is a race for three-year-old fillies only, which is rare in horseracing.
'It gives the fillies a chance to race without having to worry about the colts getting too frisky and excited,' Dad explained.
Dad knows all about getting frisky and excited, I caught him in the act once. Mum was still in hospital with Matilda. I heard voices upstairs and thought they'd come home early. I ran into the bedroom then stopped dead in my tracks. There was Dad in bed with another woman. I don't think he saw me; he was way too busy. I ran away as fast as I could. Dad called out but I didn't answer. He must have figured out it was me; he's been out to get me ever since.
That morning, my little brother Kit and I were eating breakfast quickly, crunching and munching loudly, trying to outdo each other. I grabbed a third piece of buttered toast, demolishing it while Kit was still on his second. We slurped hot, sweet, milky tea in between mouthfuls.
Dad threw his cup into the sink, smashing it. 'I've had enough of this! I work seven days a week, and this is the thanks I get?' He glared at Mum and she glared at him.
'I can smell it on you,' she said.
'Can you smell it now?' Dad lifted Mum off her chair with one hand. 'Don't you ever speak to me like that!' he said.
I jumped up, grabbing his hand as he went to slap her across the face.
He pushed me hard against the wall. 'You stay out of this! It's between me and your mother.' He grabbed Mum by the arm. 'It's my business what I do on a Friday night. Now come on, we've got work to do.'
Mum squeezed my hand on the way past. It was her way of telling me that she was alright.
While Dad was going to be busy taking bets for the Anniversary Day races, I was planning to be four blocks away with Harry, taking bets for the Glebe Derby, the biggest billycart race in Sydney.
Dad had locked my old billycart in the back shed to punish me for almost burning the house down, when all I was trying to do was light a really hot fire to unblock the chimney in the lounge room. I'd already tried using the poker but the soot wouldn't budge. Old Billy told me that lighting a hot fire is a cheaper and better way to unblock a chimney than hiring a chimneysweep. I was keen to put it to the test.
The wood was a bit damp and I couldn't get the fire started, so I splashed on some petrol, chucked on screwed-up newspaper and threw a match in. It all burst into flames but instead of burning through the soot, it filled the room with smoke. I could hardly breathe. Just when I was about to give up and put out the fire, the flames started racing up the chimney like wildfire. Everything went quiet for a couple of seconds before the thunder. I thought the chimney was going to explode. I ran outside just in time to see black smoke and feathers shooting out all over the roof then raced back in to inspect the damage before Dad did. The smell of burnt pigeon and starling combined with the petrol fumes was really disgusting. Soot, feathers and small charred bodies were all over the lounge room. It was much worse than when I'd tried to push Kit down the chimney to prove there was no Father Christmas.
I didn't burn the house down but I did unblock the chimney – clean as a whistle! Then it took me all day to clean up the mess inside and out. I got the usual belting and to top it off, Dad locked up my old billycart, just because I'd brought it into the house. I had to bring the wood and petrol inside somehow. That old thing was falling apart anyway. I was going to throw it on the fire if the petrol didn't work but it worked a treat.
What Dad didn't realise was that my old billycart had already been replaced by a newer model. Harry and I built the best billycart ever at his nan's house. I was the Glebe Billycart Derby champion, and was defending my title at three o'clock, the same time as the fourth race at Randwick. My regular Saturday chores would have to wait because I had bigger fish to fry.CHAPTER 3
Harry and I couldn't take the bets fast enough. There was a big turnout for the race, bigger than we'd expected. Not just kids but adults as well, and they all wanted a piece of the action. While Kit was busy marking out the starting positions on the road with chalk, I checked out the competition.
I was up against five other billycarts – three locals and two blow-ins. Sid Dunn was my only real threat, he'd been trying to beat me for the past two years, and came close last year. Sid's cousin, Stan, was racing Sid's old billycart, and the other blow-in was that new kid from Cowra. Only been in Glebe a week and thought he could win the Derby. No chance! Gordon always comes last in his fruit box on wheels. I didn't expect it'd be any different this year – same Gordon, same fruit box. Tommy Fisher didn't have a hope in hell. He was only ten, the same age as Kit, and way too young to handle the pressure of a big race like this.
Being the Glebe Billycart Derby champion, I was the favourite to win. Judging by the bets being placed, most of the punters thought so too. Harry and I did some quick calculations and worked out that we'd be at least thirty shillings in front if I lost the race. Kit was beside himself.
'What do you mean "lose the race"? You're going to win, aren't you?' Kit asked, picking his nose. He does that when he gets nervous or upset.
'We're running a business here, not a charity. The whole point of the Derby is to make money.' I tried to give him a brotherly hug but he pushed me away.
'You're the Glebe Derby champion – don't you care about that?' It was touching that Kit was more concerned about my reputation than the money we'd be making.
'Of course I do, but only when I've got better odds. I'll win the Derby next time or maybe the time after that. It all depends.'
'I don't get it. How can we win money if you lose the race?'
'Haven't ya parents taught ya nothin'?' Harry almost spat at Kit, rolling his eyes in disgust. 'We make bucket loads of cash if Joe loses 'cos we don't hafta pay the punters nothin'.'
Kit still wasn't happy. 'Why did we go to so much trouble building a new billycart if you're only going to lose? Why did you take the wheels off Matilda's pram?' He was shaking and looked like he was about to cry.
My mind was focused on billycarts, not family heirlooms. I had a race to lose. I climbed into the billycart, shifting my body about to get a feel for the new model. I looked at Sid, my main competition, and stared him down.
Harry was ready with the starter's gun. 'On ya marks, get set —'
When the gun sounded, I was off. The billycarts rolled together down the road, getting ready for the big downhill section. At the top of the hill, I could see people lined up on both sides of the road, cheering for their favourites. I accelerated down the hill, faster than I'd ever gone before. Must be Matilda's pram wheels, I thought. I flew over bumps and potholes, and took the bend in the road with ease. I was a nose in front of my nearest rival and we were well in front of the others, damn it! This called for desperate measures. I pulled on my rope and steered across the road, ramming the new kid from Cowra.
'Piss off!' he shouted. He managed to pull free but we were drawn together again like magnets, and our wheels locked.
'Get off me!' he screamed.
'I can't!' I screamed back.
We skidded for several yards, still locked firmly together and about to win the race. I tugged on my rope as hard as I could. We both swerved, crashing into a garbage bin that was lying in the gutter and then spun into a lamppost, the force of which finally threw us apart, not far from the finish line but not close enough, thank God! Sid Dunn won, his cousin Stan came second, Tommy came third, and Gordon came last for the third year in a row, a new race record. The new kid from Cowra and I were disqualified for going outside the race boundaries.
Harry paid five shillings to each of the two punters who'd bet on the winner, and then started counting all the money that was left – our winnings. Gordon, who had come last in the race, was quietly watching Harry. Standing next to him was a tall, thin man wearing an old hat that was pulled down over his eyes.
'I know what ya did and me son wants 'is money back,' the man said.
'I dunno what ya talkin' 'bout,' Harry replied.
'I heard ya talkin' before 'bout throwin' the race. Ya said ya'd make more money that way.'
'Well ya heard wrong, mister. Sid Dunn won fair 'n' square.'
'Give me son 'is money back!'
'Piss off!' Harry replied, staring the man down.
'Ya haven't heard the last of this. Gordon, go get ya billycart, we're goin' home.'
Excerpted from Racing the Moon by Michelle Morgan. Copyright © 2014 Michelle Morgan. Excerpted by permission of Allen & Unwin.
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.
Table of Contents
ContentsCHAPTER 1 EGGS,
CHAPTER 2 RACE DAY,
CHAPTER 3 THE DERBY,
CHAPTER 4 BROKEN ARM,
CHAPTER 5 ALTAR BOYS,
CHAPTER 6 IT JUST ISN'T CRICKET,
CHAPTER 7 THE OLD OAK TREE,
CHAPTER 8 LEAVING,
CHAPTER 9 GETTING THERE,
CHAPTER 10 ORIENTATION,
CHAPTER 11 AMDG,
CHAPTER 12 RULES,
CHAPTER 13 BLOOD BROTHERS,
CHAPTER 14 ANGELS,
CHAPTER 15 BACK HOME,
CHAPTER 16 THE GAME'S UP,
CHAPTER 17 NEWS,
CHAPTER 18 EASTER,
CHAPTER 19 THE LAST STRAW,
CHAPTER 20 SOUTH TO ST MARY'S,
CHAPTER 21 THE FARM,
CHAPTER 22 CABBAGES AND CAULIFLOWERS,
CHAPTER 23 GETTING THE HANG OF IT,
CHAPTER 24 THE PITS,
CHAPTER 25 MATES,
CHAPTER 26 LESSONS,
CHAPTER 27 KIT'S LETTER,
CHAPTER 28 FEAST DAY,
CHAPTER 29 MY BIRTHDAY,
CHAPTER 30 GETTING READY,
CHAPTER 31 RACING THE MOON,
CHAPTER 32 WAKING UP,
CHAPTER 33 MORE LIES,
CHAPTER 34 BAD LUCK,
CHAPTER 35 GOING HOME,