Past the Headlands
"The woolshed at Mistake Springs has an east-west alignment...
There is tricky magnetic country near Mount Behn...
The Wyndham airstrip is sticky when wet...
"There was a time when Neil Quiller's logbooks had kept him safe in the air. But it's 1941 now, he's a photo-reconnaissance pilot in Malaya, and Kimberley landmarks are no good to him at all.
"Betrayed by a spy and shot down over the jungle, Quiller escapes to Singapore ahead of the advancing Japanese. Here he finds love and freindship but is also unsettled to encounter his cousin, Cameron Dunn, who demands from him an impossible promise.
"Meanwhile, as Japanese fighter-planes and cyclonic winds lurk along the north-west coast of Australia, Jeannie Verco runs Haarlem Downs, the Kimberley cattle station where Cameron was born and Neil grew up, and waits for war news that never comes.
"When Singapore falls, Quiller, armed with hand-drawn maps, a school atlas and an increasing longing for home, begins a treacherous journey across land and sea.
"Tense, moving, evocative and beautifully written, Past the Headlands is a novel about loyalty and treachery, settlement and exile, by a writer at the height of his powers."
In the days and nights of his reckoning with the heat, the dust and his wrong-footed ways, the boy has this: the hushed bite of his tyres along the sheep pads before the world awakens. He freewheels over the packed dirt in a smooth, irresistible dash, occasionally backpedalling for a root or stone-reef kink in the trail. In the east, the basalt escarpment is a static line of pink, a long wave breaching. Soon it will turn, brushed fully red by the sun. In the west, not so far away, the Indian Ocean is breaking along the Eighty Mile Beach. The sheep pads give out at the dunes. You must lean forward and high-step up their flanks, your machine balanced on one shoulder, to reach the downslope and the hard sand at,the edge of the water. There might be a pearling fleet on the horizon, or even a Dutch guilder washed up on to the sand after three hundred years of motion and encrustation on the bed of the sea. Neil Quiller has these things, too. Otherwise there is only his numbness.
But then, as he coasts along the sheep pads in the elongated shadows of the rising sun, he registers two faint wheel-thumps in the cork handgrips. He wobbles, risking a backward glance, and sees a snake rear up, hunting him before it flicks away into the grass. Of what use against snakes are puttees, thorn-proof tyres and the sections of rope he'd mounted between the forks to scrape away the burrs? Uncle Leonard's blacksmith hadn't prepared him for snakes.
From the Allen & Unwin paperback edition, 2001.
This page and its contents are copyright © 2002 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.Return to Garry Disher Page.
Last modified: January 12, 2002.