History’s a Mystery
Read the first Chapter
Those three friends had been together ever since they had been in nappies. Coolongewong was such a small town that they had been in the same class through pre-school, kinder and ever since. Now they were about to start Grade 5 at the primary school and were looking forward to having Mr Mac as their new teacher. Not that he was much to look at. He was really old, with silvery-grey, curly hair that grew out of his head like saggy coils on an old mattress. He had wrinkles all over his brown arms and face and he wore thick, coke-bottle glasses on his nose. But his mind was razor-sharp and all his past students just adored him. His real name was Mr McIlquham but everyone just called him Mr Mac. With a name like that, it was understandable. Nobody could even pronounce his real name, let alone spell it.
He had been at their school for nearly forever and the kids all agreed that he was a wicked teacher. His last year’s fifth had been the envy of the school. The word was that he did fun stuff in his classroom and took his class out into the playground to do special things, like building forts and castles, playing pirates and so on. But best of all, even his ordinary lessons were supposed to be fun. He told exciting stories in History and made jokes all through Maths – as unlikely as that may sound.
Ben wasn’t too sure that school could ever be fun, but he was looking forward to having Mr Mac as a teacher anyway. Ben didn’t like school much. He really only came because his two best friends were there – and because he had to. He tried hard to avoid any deep thinking whenever he could, mostly leaving that to his mate, Matt. Ben just followed along. Matt was the thinker, the one who always thought things out before he did them. Ben was much happier kicking a footy around or playing cricket.
It was funny that Matt and Ben were such good mates, as they were dead opposites as far as looks went as well. Matt was tall and thin, with short curly hair and soft grey eyes. He’d look at you with those eyes and you could just tell sometimes that he was far away in his own thoughts. Ben, on the other hand, was small and tough with black hair and flashing, dark brown eyes. He was a doer, not a thinker. He was a champion at all sports. It didn’t matter which one. Even if Ben had never played a game before, he’d pick it up really quickly and soon be the best in the class.
Nicky’s eyes were dark brown too. Her real name was Nicole but nobody ever called her that. Unless her dad got really mad at her, but that rarely happened. She had curly brown hair and a wide flat nose. She never needed sunscreen and could stay out in the sun all day long and not burn. Nicky was a great mate too. She was fun to be around and the boys found it hard to remember sometimes that she was only a girl. She could run and swim and tackle as hard as any bloke in a game of footy. Nicky’s mum had died soon after she was born and her dad had raised her. He was a Koori. His name was Mr Maher and he worked in the Wollendidgee National Park, about twenty minutes out of town. He was an interpretation officer – whatever that meant, but he sure knew heaps about the bush. Ben loved to go out with Nicky and her dad. He could tell what animals had recently been at a creek crossing and what birds were nesting in the trees overhead. He knew all the birdcalls and could spot berries you could eat a mile off. And, best of all, Nicky’s dad seemed to like having Ben around.
And Ben liked that too, as Ben didn’t have a dad of his own. No, that’s not entirely true. He did have one, but he lived in the city and Ben hadn’t seen him for five or so years. It hurt him that his dad forgot his birthdays and never rang him up. He wanted to see him. He wanted a dad. Mostly he lied to people and just told them he didn’t have a father. But Matt knew the truth. He also knew how hurt Ben felt and so he never talked about it or brought the subject up. Ben was grateful for that.
Matt had a mum and a dad, and two pesky little sisters who were forever getting what they wanted by whining and carrying on. Matt hated them. Well, not exactly hated, but certainly didn’t want them around him all the time. He liked to escape after school and sometimes he met Nicky and Ben down by the river. He liked to swim with his friends and fish by himself when they weren’t around. He wasn’t exactly a loner but he did enjoy his own company at times. Fishing gave him time to think. And thinking was great fun. He loved history and most of all he liked to imagine he lived in times long past, at one time being a Knight of the Round Table at Camelot, or Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest, or even a pirate on the high seas.
But a long time ago he found out that he couldn’t share these mental adventures with Ben, as much as he would have liked to, because Ben didn’t seem to have too much of an imagination. If he’d mention ‘high seas’ to Ben, Ben would think he’d be talking about the king tides on the coast at Christmas time when he went on holidays with his mum. Nicky was better. She could be his Queen Guenevere or his Maid Marion. She loved the make-believe and they could talk together for hours about how it would have been to be alive then and the adventures they would have had. Little did they know then what was going to happen to them that year at school. Their dreaming and make-believe was kindergarten stuff compared to what was to come.
The long, hot, Australian summer was still far from over and school was about to go back when the fourth person in this story, Kris, arrived in town with her mum. Nicky’s dad had mentioned a few weeks back that he was getting a new boss out at Wollendidgee, but no-one had expected it to be a woman. Mrs Foster took up her new post and quickly got the thumbs up from the staff at the national park. Nicky’s dad liked her a lot. But her daughter Kristen was a bit of a mystery. They knew she had arrived, but nobody had seen her about. She didn’t stick her nose outside the door from the time of her arrival until the first day of school. And they didn’t know then that that was because she had a huge dose of the sulks.