History’s a Mystery
Read the first Chapter
January had been stinking hot as usual. The summer school holidays in Australia are always hot. And long. And boring. And nothing much ever seemed to change in Coolongewong. Especially if you were a kid.
But that was not true any more. At least not for the four friends. Things had changed. And in a big way. They had discovered a creaky floorboard in their schoolroom last year that had enabled them to go on the most amazing adventures together.
Coolongewong was a small, sleepy town in the mid-west of New South Wales. Not many people had even heard of it. It was only that it had the Wollendidgee National Park close by that people even visited Coolongewong at all. Three of the four friends had lived there all their lives. Matt, Ben and Nicky had been best friends ever since they could remember.
Then a new girl had come to town at the start of last year. Her name was Kris and she had quickly become the fourth member of this group. They had begun Year 5 together. On the very first day of school, Kris and Matt had accidentally discovered that they could go back in time and experience something real in the past, just as it was happening. All they had to do was trip on a creaky floorboard, crash into the teacher’s desk and say the magic words History’s a Mystery.
They had then found out that they could go on these awesome adventures together all through the year, so long as it was on the day of the new moon. They had met some really cool people from the past, including Thomas Edison, Ernest Shackleton and Marco Polo and had had some fantastic times on a pirate ship, visiting Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest and jousting at Camelot Castle. However, these adventures hadn’t always been fun. Sometimes they had been downright scary. Like when lions in Ancient Rome had very nearly eaten them and when they had visited Pompeii the day Mount Vesuvius erupted. But the four friends always seemed to come through their adventures safe and sound. And now there were heaps more promised for this year, as they had Mr Mac as their teacher again.
Mr Mac had had a haircut. His funny steel-grey curls had gone and in their place was a crew cut. He looked very strange and actually quite funny. You could see now that his head was a really weird shape, sort of like an upside-down pear, something that his curls had covered up before. He still wore his thick coke-bottle glasses perched on the end of his nose and he seemed even wrinklier than they remembered from last year. Some of the kids couldn’t help giggling. But he was as sharp as ever. As his Year 6 class filed into the room on the first day of school, he eyed them up and down.
“I know I look stupid,” he said, eying off the ones who had been giggling. “But my wife made me do it. Hopefully I’ll grow back into my old self over the next few months.”
His class all laughed with him then. Mr Mac was a total legend in the school. He wasn’t your everyday, run-of-the-mill, take-out-your-books-and-write-this-down type of teacher. In fact, he was the dead opposite. He was awesome. He made everything he did in the classroom fun. And that included Maths. He loved History too, and seemed to be able to bring something from History into every lesson he taught. Everyone was stoked at being in his class again this year.
Even Ben. Ben hadn’t been that keen on school at the start of Year 5. He used to tell people that he only went because he had to and because his best friends were there. But that wasn’t true any more. Not since he had been in Mr Mac’s class, and not since he had discovered that he could go on amazing adventures within his classroom. School for Ben had now become a different place altogether. He loved it.
Mr Mac went around his students, greeting them one by one and asking how they’d spent their holidays. When it was Ben’s turn to tell him what he had been up to, he had to include Nicky as well, for they had spent some of their holidays together. Nicky’s dad, Mr Maher, had taken Ben and Nicky camping. Mr Maher was an aboriginal who worked at the Wollendidgee National Park and he knew heaps about the bush. Nicky and Ben told Mr Mac how they had learned to find water, to make a bush shelter, to track animals and find things in the bush that were safe to eat or were useful as medicines. They’d loved it.
Ben and Nicky were really close friends, but Mr Mac already knew that. Nicky didn’t have a mum and Ben didn’t have a dad. Well, that was not quite right. Ben did have a dad, but he lived in Sydney and didn’t ever contact Ben at all. This hurt Ben very much and he never liked to talk about it. Nicky’s mum had died when she was born and her dad was raising her. And Mr Maher was always great to Ben, as well as to Nicky.
He worked at the national park with Kris’ mum, Mrs Foster. She was his boss. Ben and Nicky had had a fantastic time away, but afterwards Ben had said quietly to Nicky that he wished his mum could have gone with them as well. That had started Nicky thinking about maybe getting their two parents together to see if anything romantic might happen. She wisely decided to keep this to herself, however, and to think a bit more about it.
Then Mr Mac moved on to Matt. Matt told him that he had been in Brisbane with his Mum and Dad, and his two younger sisters, Olivia and Megan. His grandparents lived there and he had had plenty of time to go fishing with his Grandad and to eat his Grandma’s delicious lamingtons and pikelets. Mr Mac asked him about the fish he’d caught and Matt proudly showed him a photo of a large flathead.
Next it was Kris’ turn. She told Mr Mac that she had been back to Sydney to spend time with her dad and his new wife, Jo. Two weeks ago, her dad and Jo had been married quietly in a registry office and Kris had been one of the witnesses. She’d loved that. Then they had taken her with them on their honeymoon to Fiji and Kris had learned to snorkel. She had overcome her fear of the water and found she just loved to swim around, looking at all the different fish and other animals that lived in the safe tidal lagoons of the islands.
Mr Mac already knew that Kris had only met Jo for the first time last year. Although Kris had been determined not to like her, this hadn’t happened. Jo was lovely and had treated Kris just right. Not like a daughter, but more like a special friend or a favourite younger sister. The two of them had got on really well together. Kris’ dad couldn’t have been happier with this. The two most important girls in his life were friends. Jo was also the one who had organised for Frank to go home to Coolongewong with Kris. Frank was Kris’ dog, now much loved by all the children. He was a spotty sausage, being a cross between a Dalmatian and a Dachshund. Not long enough to be a whole frankfurter, he was just called Frank.
Mr Mac continued around the classroom and spotted Jesse’s empty chair. He looked at the four friends with a raised eyebrow.
“Where’s our maths whiz and old troublemaker?” he asked.
Jesse had not been the most welcome addition to their class when he had arrived halfway through last year. All the kids had thought he was pretty awful. Mr Mac had had heaps of trouble with him. Then Jesse had joined the four friends on one of their adventures. They hadn’t wanted him to of course, but he just sort of invited himself along. After that, he did seem to change a lot for the better. But now he was gone again.
Matt explained to Mr Mac what had happened. Jesse’s parents had taken him to Sydney in the holidays and his dad had been offered a big promotion and had decided to take it.
Mr Mac knew that Jesse would have been totally devastated by this news. He would have had to leave behind his four new friends. And Mr Mac suspected that these would have been the first real friends he’d ever had. And Jesse only had them because he had decided to change his behaviour so drastically towards the end of the year. Mr Mac really liked the new person Jesse had become and he knew Jesse liked himself a whole lot more as well. He suspected Jesse would be worried that he might go back to his old ways when he started at another new school.
“That’s really sad,” said Mr Mac. “Just when he seemed to be settling in so well.”
The four friends nodded. In fact the whole class was in agreement. The most unpopular and most horrible boy in the class had changed so much in the short time that he had been with them that they were all sorry to see him go.
“I think I’ll write to his parents and his new teacher,” Mr Mac said. “They should know what a great kid he is now. I’ll do that after school today.”
Mr Mac had now spoken to every one of his students. So he decided it was time to grab their attention with a quick job. They were all half-expecting what he said next anyway.
“We’re going to start this year in just the same way that we did last year when you were in Year 5,” he said. The class grinned. They knew what was coming and they were pleased about it.
“I want you to write down something from history that you would like to know more about this year. And we’ll keep adding these new events to our timeline and to the world map from last year,” he went on.
Mr Mac had strung a huge time line around the classroom walls. It went back to about 5000BC, around the start of civilization, and came right up to the present. The lines dividing the centuries were a lot closer together at the beginning than they were at the end and, as the year had gone on, the kids had started to get the general idea of when things had actually taken place. He also had a big map of the world on one of the walls and, as they studied each topic, he’d mark where it happened on the map. In this way his class was absorbing a bit of world geography as well.
“So get out a piece of paper and a pen and get to work,” he said.
His class needed no further direction. They all loved his lessons because Mr Mac made them so interesting and exciting. Last year they had studied pirates and had all come to school dressed as pirates one day. Another time they had constructed an old Sydney town just as Captain Phillip would have done. And they had done loads of other interesting and fun things in his classroom. They all knew that this year would be just as good if not better.
The four friends were sitting together again this year, at their four desks. These desks were touching each other to make a rectangle, so that they were sitting facing each other. They gave each other a small smile. Matt had suspected that Mr Mac would ask them to do just this and he had talked to the others about it yesterday at the river. They had decided where they wanted to go for their first adventure and Ben was the one who was going to write it down for Mr Mac. Jesse and Ben had wanted to go back and meet The Three Musketeers at the end of last year but it hadn’t happened. They’d ended up having a white Christmas together instead. So they had all agreed that this should be their very first adventure of the year. All they needed was the new moon, and that was only two weeks away. It was just a pity that Jesse would miss out.
The other three got busy too. Nicky had decided on the famous bushranger, Ned Kelly, and Matt wanted to know more about the original Olympic Games, held in Olympia in Ancient Greece, while Kris had decided on learning more about the time of the dinosaurs. They planned to go on these adventures over the first couple of months. They had never been back in history as far as the dinosaurs and they weren’t even sure if it would be possible. But they would see.
As they all began to write, Mr Mac gazed around the room. They were all writing furiously as he had hoped they would be. His gaze stopped at Kris and he gave a little smile. She was writing just as keenly as everyone else. He remembered that this time last year she hadn’t written a thing. She had been the new kid in the class then, and had hated being there, saying she knew nothing of history. But that was before the creaky floorboard and the amazing adventures. How she had changed! And how Mr Mac wished he could join them on those adventures! But he just sighed inwardly. He knew that that was impossible.
When the bell rang for recess, the kids all left what they had written on Mr Mac’s desk. He sifted through them and started to get excited too. They had come up with some brilliant stuff and Mr Mac was going to have just as much fun as his class in teaching them about these things during the year. Of course, he was disappointed that he couldn’t share in the real adventures that the four friends would have, but he was resigned to it by now and was happy just to know that they could go and experience these for themselves. He decided to start the year with Ben’s topic of Musketeers.