After the fire, a still small voice - By Evie Wyld


I am grateful to Laetitia Rutherford for her generous wisdom and guidance and for asking me to write in the first place. Ellah Allfrey, Nikki Christer and Diana Coglianese for their excellent direction, and their enthusiasm for this book. Darren Wall at Wallzo for his beautiful artwork. Sarah Barnes and Roz Simpson and the students of Bacon’s College for keeping me employed, in the loosest possible sense, and all those friends who, perhaps unknowingly, helped along the way. Excellent teachers I have had, including Rebecca de Pelet, Lucy Sheddon, Colin Edwards and Stephen Knight and all those at Bath Spa University and on the Goldsmiths Creative Writing MA. For help writing on the Australian experience during the Vietnam War, I’d like to thank Dr Julian Stallabrass and those who make available the brilliant and accessible online material at Australians at War and the National Archives of Australia.

Very particular thanks go to Tim Strange. I could not have imagined the book at all without his willingness to talk, his openness and warmth. This is however a work of fiction, and all characters are entirely made up, any mistakes mine alone. Thank you Ben Strange for introducing me to Bassey as well as translating fishing and the marina to me. Any mistakes here are, again, all my own. Thanks to my Mum, Dad and Tom who have shown a huge amount of encouragement and support. Thanks, most especially, to Jamie for every thing.


The sun turned the narrow dirt track to dust. It rose like an orange tide from the wheels of the truck and blew in through the window to settle in Frank Collard’s arm hair. He remembered the place feeling more tropical, the soil thicker and wetter. The sugar cane on either side of the track was thin and reedy, wild with a brown husk and sick-looking green tops. The same old cane that hadn’t been harvested in twenty years swayed like a green sea. Blue gums and box trees hepped out of it, not bothered with the dieback. Once it would all have been hardwood. In the time his grandparents had lived out here, just the two of them, before the new highway, maybe then this place was a shack in the woods.

The clearing was smaller than he remembered, like the cane had slunk closer to the pale wooden box hut. The banana tree stooped low over a corrugated roof. He turned off the engine and sagged in his seat for a moment taking it in. There was a tweak at the back of his neck and when he slapped it his palm came away bloody.

‘Home again home again diggidy dig.’

He could have driven here without thinking. He could have turned the radio up loud and listened to the memorial service at Australia Zoo. They were calling them revenge killings, the stingrays found mutilated up and down Queensland beaches. He could have let his hands steer him to Mulaburry, those same roads he’d hitched along as a kid, sun-scarred and spotty, scrawny as a feral dog without the bulky calves and wide hands he had now. But never mind that, he’d still pulled over on to the slip road and smoothed out the map and read aloud the places, and he still sent his eyes over and over the landmarks, searching for the turn-offs he knew were not written down. The tension in his arms had got so strong he wanted to bust a fist through the windscreen but instead, as a road train roared by and rocked the Ute in its wake, he’d clutched the wheel, crumpling the map as he did it, feeling small tears made by his fingertips. He had gripped the wheel hard so that it burnt, and he pushed like it might relieve the feeling in his arms. But it didn’t help and then he was outside, banging his fists on the bonnet for all that he was worth, his nose prickling, his throat closed up, the bloody feel of some bastard terrible thing swimming inside him. And when he was done and spent, he had climbed back into the truck and refolded the buggered map, and when he couldn’t make it fit together he’d laughed softly and started the engine.

The air outside was thick with insect noise, heavy with heat, and the old gums groaned. The padlock on the door was gone and the idea that some other bastard might have claimed the place as his own nearly made him turn round and shoo all