Authors: Tim Winton
As soon as they were free of the buffeting water Georgie became conscious of the island which loomed into view on her side of the plane and at this final sight of it she felt the same queasy jolt of recognition that she had experienced the very first time. But there was no delight in it now, no tantalizing wonder—just the miserable fact of her incomprehension. There it was, like some bearded, featureless head rising, perennially and pointlessly from the water.
From her position in the rear she saw Jim and the pilot turn their heads in the same moment toward the other side of the plane. They began to speak and Jim gestured vigorously but the pilot shook his head. Georgie held her headphones in her lap.
The island fell by and the shimmering gulf was gone. Below them lay the yellow broken land.
Georgie looked up to see Jim still speaking. His finger jabbed the air near the pilot’s cheek and the sinews of his neck stood out. With downcast eyes the young pilot spoke to Jim or to someone on the radio. He appeared to be hesitating, though the plane was still nosing up, seeking altitude.
The cabin smelt faintly of puke.
Georgie saw the young man’s lips stop moving at the same instant the engine’s note faltered. She saw him mouth the words, You bitch!
He suddenly had his hand on one gauge after another as though his fingers might clear the plane’s choked throat. Then he gave up and pumped the plane higher.
She felt him physically levering the thing up in steps, while the engine sputtered and gagged overhead. He put them into the gentlest of turns. Georgie began to see the blades of the prop becoming distinct. And then there was just whistling quiet and the prop fanned into a lazy windblown turn and they were gliding.
Jim swivelled in his seat. His face was grey.
Georgie saw the blue strip of water ahead. She saw the island. So this was the shimmer of recognition. You saw this day. But not this comic resignation, nor the whistling emptiness of the air around you. Somehow it’d always felt like a future, not the end.
She heard the pilot talking to himself. Jim breathing deeply.
From behind he had the weathered neck of a turtle. He began to writhe in his seat. She was sorry for him.
When the plane chokes and goes silent, Fox feels his gut fall.
He’s killed it. With a shout, with that owl scream he’s killed them all.
It turns back toward him losing altitude, chasing its shadow towards the water, towards him. A breeze springs up. At first he thinks it’s slipstream but the whole gulf ruffles around him. The plane tips down at him, with the wind behind it, as though it’s searching him out. Green now, shining. He feels himself cringing on the water as it shrieks over, towed by its own shadow, close enough to feel in the air around him. Too steep, too fast.
Before it even hits the water, he’s paddling flat-out. He feels the seam in his collarbone as he digs toward it. The plane is suddenly a white cataract, a storm. The port wing shears back, flutters skyward, and the whole machine goes over in a cartwheel of spray and noise while he paddles.
Already there’s the flare of a bow wave from the direction of the guide’s camp. He smells kerosene and hot metal. Air hisses from the fuselage as it lists and settles. Voices. A khaki shirt up, a man bloody-faced and yelling. Fox almost runs him down as he ploughs up against the gulping aircraft.
A door shoots two metres into the air and the entire hull shudders. Another man swimming.
Fox claws his way along the ragged wing-stub. It’s upside down, windows submerged. With his feet he finds a sill, an opening, and he hyperventilates as hard and fast as he can while there’s time.
The fuselage shudders and he soaks his bones with air. With a final breath he plunges under. He gets a handhold as the plane tips away His hair and beard stream back in the current. His ears pop as he plunges through the milky deep with his eyes burning and his breath aglow like a coal in his chest. You can do this, he thinks with a bright, mad flush. This is what you do.
Air cheeps from his ears again. The water vibrates against his skin as he rushes all the way to the pale sandy seabed.
Georgie hung upside down against her harness with her whole weight against the clumsy latches into which her fingers could not fit. Air burbled and boiled somewhere in the cabin like the sound of a human voice. You could feel the weight of the motor dragging you down. Spritzing bubbles. Everything blurry.
The doorway was just a rectangle of pale blue light now.
She watched it as passively as you would a TV or a computer screen. She was calm, so calm—and then not calm.
The thud of the plane hitting the bottom kicked the air out of her; she felt her last breath run up her chin and across her breasts and she saw the shadow coming for her like any ordinary saurian nightmare. She lashed at it, fought it off while it clawed at her. Such a hot darkness and so insistent upon her. It pressed itself furry against her face. She saw red eyes within the black wavering blur. Georgie could feel it snapping her free from herself; she sensed her last awful unbuckling, the yanking sensation of coming unstuck.
But air against her lips. Hotter than water. It boiled through her teeth and into her throat. It blew her open. It was like an electrical charge. For a moment she thought she saw his face in that hoary mass before her eyes. She felt his lips pressed against her. Luther Fox.
She felt herself come unglued, felt the grip of his hands upon her arms. She was floating into that pale blue screen, into the soft world outside. Georgie Jutland drank his hot shout and let him swim her up into the rest of her life.
He lies with his head against the deck and does not breathe. The sky is behind her. She’s real. She’s not real. The others have faces they don’t seem to own yet. One of them looks as though he’s still waiting to be rescued.
Georgie looked at the martyred jut of his hipbones, the twigs in his hair, the livid ulcers all down his thin legs. The boat was moving now. The sea behind them was glossy with fuel and a final coil of bubbles that twisted on the surface. The pilot shook. Jim Buckridge held his head in his hands. The fishing guide worked the tiller and licked his lips as though lost for words.
She looks in from the sky. Eyes wide as a fish’s. Real or not, he should breathe. He feels his lips split in a smile. Soon. There’s plenty of time for that.
Georgie saw his eyes roll back and his hips lift toward her.
My God, he was blue. The bleeding pilot drew his legs back in horror and Jim Buckridge bellowed. Georgie froze. She was as stuck as she’d ever been in her life. Luther Fox began to convulse.
Well, said the guide. You’re the nurse.
Yes, she thought. This is what I do.
She fell on Luther Fox, pressed her mouth to his and blew.
I would like to thank Robert Vaughan for his generosity and his friendship and for the many days and nights on One Tree Beach where this story took shape.
For editorial advice I’m indebted to Jenny Darling, Howard Willis, Hilary McPhee and Judith Lukin-Amundsen.
I thank my children for the years of encouragement, for the little notes in the drawer and for their gentle patience.
This book is for Denise who endured it and made it possible.
There is no town called White Point in Western Australia, nor a place by the name of Coronation Gulf. This is a work of fiction and its characters are imaginary.
Preliminary Matter (cover blurb)
Georgie Jutland is a mess. At forty, with her career in ruins, she finds herself stranded in White Point with a fisherman she doesn’t love and two kids whose dead mother she can never replace. Her days have fallen into domestic tedium and social isolation. Her nights are a blur of vodka and pointless loitering in cyberspace. Leached of all confidence, Georgie has lost her way; she barely recognises herself.
One morning, in the boozy predawn gloom, she looks up from the computer screen to see a shadow lurking on the beach below, and a dangerous new element enters her life. Luther Fox, the local poacher. Jinx. Outcast.
So begins an unlikely alliance. Set in the wild landscape of Western Australia, this is a novel about the odds of breaking with the past, a love story about people stifled by grief or regret, whose dreams are lost, whose hopes have dried up. It’s a journey across landscapes within and without, about the music that sometimes arises from the dust.
In prose as haunting and beautiful as its western setting, Dirt Music confirms Tim Winton’s status as the preeminent Auistralian novelist of his generation.
About the Author
Tim Winton was born in Perth in 1960. His eighteen books for adults and children have been published to acclaim at home and abroad. Twice winner of the Miles Franklin award as well and shortlisted for the Booker Prize, his work has achieved the rare distinction of being both critically admired and loved by readers. His work has been translated into twelve languages and has been adapted for stage, radio and film. He lives in Western Australia with his wife and three children.