For our final Issue Ten teaser, Kylie Ladd discusses encountering complicated race relations as a new Broome resident.
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We have been in Broome all of five minutes, waiting for our bags at the tiny tin-roofed airport, when my eight-year-old daughter, Cameron, makes her first sighting. ‘There’s one,’ she hisses excitedly to her older brother, tugging at his arm. ‘Come on, Dec – let’s go over and look.’
Always the more cautious of the two, my son shifts his small backpack from one shoulder to the other and rubs his nose thoughtfully. ‘Nah,’ he finally answers, though I can tell he’s tempted. ‘Mum wouldn’t like it. We better stay here.’
I’ve been scanning the conveyor belt, searching for our luggage, but I turn at this exchange to see what they’re talking about. A gecko, maybe, or some other kind of foreign fauna. I am ready to shoo them off, to encourage their interest in their new environment, until I follow my daughter’s gaze and discover not a lizard, not a bird or a flower or a fruit, but an elderly Aboriginal man sweeping the waiting area.
‘He’s really black, isn’t he, Mummy?’ asks my daughter loudly. ‘Can I go up and look at him?’
Embarrassed, I only just resist the urge to clap my hand over her mouth. The woman standing next to us gives me a tight-lipped smile as she locates her case and moves away. Wait, I want to call after her, let me explain. Though, of course, I don’t. In my daughter’s eye, the Aboriginal cleaner is as exotic as an elephant. Actually, I reflect as I lug our bags to a taxi, in her short life she’s seen far more elephants.
Broome is located in the far north-west of Australia, well above the Tropic of Capricorn and almost as far as you can go without falling off the map. It is a place of vivid and vibrant colour: red earth, white sand, turquoise water, the green of the mangroves, the glitter of the sun. Travel brochures invariably advertise the area using pictures of camel trains on Cable Beach at sunset, and it’s true that this is a lovely sight. But Broome is so much more: the ochre cliffs at Gantheaume Point, the streets lined with frangipani and mango trees, the long, low verandahs of the old pearling masters’ houses, the wet-season storms crackling across the night sky.
My husband and I made the decision to move to Broome for a year on a bit of a whim. He had a large slab of annual and longservice leave that his employers were anxious for him to take; we had holidayed in the region previously and were enchanted by its beauty and climate. The timing was perfect, he enthused as he laid out his plan: having just signed my second novel, I could put my regular job as a neuropsychologist on hold for a bit and concentrate on my writing; our two children, both at primary school, were old enough not just to cope with the change but to benefit from it. We could see the National Heritage-listed Kimberley with them, he argued, though I didn’t need much convincing. They’d go to school up north, be immersed in a different culture; we’d get out from under our over- scheduled lives and actually spend some time together as a family before they turned into teenagers and disowned us. Within two days he had found us a house in Broome; within two weeks I had given notice at work and told the children what we were doing.
They were both excited by the idea. When I opened up the atlas to show Cameron where Broome was in relation to our home in Melbourne, she studied the map for a good few minutes. ‘It’s a long way,’ she finally pronounced, tracing with her finger the vast diagonal from the bottom right to the top left of Australia. ‘Will it be different from here?’
‘It will be hotter,’ I told her, ‘and your school will be bigger. There’ll be a lot more kids, and some of them will be Aboriginal.’
Kylie Ladd is a clinical neuropsychologist, novelist and freelance writer. Her second novel, Last Summer (Allen & Unwin), was recently Highly Commended in the Federation of Australian Writers Christina Stead award for fiction.