Chapter 1

moore-river

Camp wasn’t that bad. Everyone was so nice and friendly and it was hard to be miserable and filled with teen angst when surrounded by people having fun and being pleasant. For the first day I did sit back and practice my best look of disdain, but no-one seemed to notice, they were like a litter of puppies who kept coming back, tails wagging, even after being pushed away. Lily was the most insistent, with her big blue eyes and ready smile, she would not take no for an answer. I could see she had plenty of other friends as her family had been coming to camp for years, so I don’t know why she bothered with me. I suspect it had something to do with her mum.

Our mothers were the reason I was at camp. Mum had a breast cancer scare two years ago, and instead of getting chemotherapy, which she decreed poison, she decided to look at alternative therapies after surgery. I came home one day to find most of the pantry and bathroom cupboard contents in the bin, including all of my personal things. From that point on, mum pronounced the house a toxin-free zone. Everything was to be paraben-free, additive-free, preservative-free and fun free.

To be honest, I actually did not mind the overhaul of the food as mum used to be a pretty bad cook and we used to live on tasteless, cardboard-like frozen meals and cereal. Mum started following all of these health blogs and buying ingredients that no-one could pronounce and the resultant meals were quite tasty. I even started to show an interest in cooking for the first time ever, and between us we made a good team in the kitchen. My skin was clear, mum was feeling great and dad moved from his daily jogging to training for ultra-marathons. Earlier this year he ran in an ultra-marathon of 100 kilometres.

It was all my personal beauty products I saw protruding from the bin that which I really took offence to. Fine, if mum wanted to decree her body a toxin-free zone, but she had no right to say what went on mine. She could argue until she was blue in the face, but her essential oils were no match for my aluminium-based deodorant and I had been given my Victoria’s Secret ‘Love Me’ perfume for my birthday, and it really did not compare to a splash of patchouli behind the ears. As soon as she was busy making her first batch of almond, cacao, matcha bliss balls, I rescued my deodorant and perfume as well as all my make-up and took them up to my friend Kate’s house. I picked up Kate on the way to school every day, so I would just make sure I left the house a few minutes earlier. Kate’s parents were very important people who were never home, they would never mention my subterfuge to my mum.

Kate lived around the corner from my house and we had been best friends since kindergarten, when she was dropped at the door of the classroom by her mum. All of us other kids had our mums or dads with us to help smooth the transition, but Kate’s mum was a partner in a law firm and her dad did something in finance, so neither had the time to stay with her on her first day of kindy. It was pure chance that I happened to look up from the blocks I was playing with as Kate was being dropped off. I could see the tears begin to well in her eyes, but more importantly, I noticed her Bratz backpack. I was obsessed with all things Bratz from ages three to six, I hadn’t noticed anyone else arrive with a Bratz backpack, so I figured this girl and I should be friends. In the nine years I have been friends with Kate I have only seen her dad a handful of times and although I know her mum fairly well, I find her formidable, it’s not surprising that she is a successful lawyer.

Mum had started attending yoga classes run by the owners of the local health food store. It was here she had struck up a friendship with Lily’s mum, Tan. When you think of people who do yoga, images of my mum and Tan did not come to mind. I’m not an advocate of stereotyping, but my mum is just a housewife trying to find a way to make sure cancer does not beat her; she doesn’t even own proper yoga pants. As far as I am aware she had never exercised in her life before. Tan is this no-nonsense mother of three who has what her and my mum refer to as an expression of “resting bitch-face”. When you first meet her she is really intimidating, but it turns out she is very kind and super creative, but she has a practicality about her that just doesn’t mesh with my world view of yoga.

Tan and mum catch up most weeks for a glass or three of organic wine. They are merciless in their judgement of some of the other women who are regulars at their yoga sessions and have given them all code names. Most of the time I try not to listen to be honest, it is embarrassing the way they carry on, but sometimes they get so carried away with their own hilarity that it is hard to shut them out without leaving the room, and part of our toxic-free living is that a family spends time together in family living areas; even when one of the family is acting like a giggling schoolgirl.

When mum told me she was going on a yoga retreat in India for two weeks over the school holidays with Tan and that I was going to go to camp with Tan’s kids I was shocked and angry. I couldn’t believe my mum would do this to me, I barely knew Tan’s kids and Kate and I had made plans for the holidays already. I was also pretty annoyed that mum didn’t think I was old enough, at fourteen, to stay home during the day on my own. Kate had been staying home alone since I could remember and nothing bad had happened to her. I pleaded with mum not to send me on the camp, I pleaded with my dad not to let mum send me on the camp, but dad tended to go along with mum’s decisions, especially since her cancer.

Mum seemed to think that because Tan’s kids and I had spent time in the same room, we were friends, we were not. Lily and I are the same age, but couldn’t be more different. She looks like an angel, with long blonde hair, a fair complexion with a smattering of freckles, and as I mentioned before, big blue eyes. I, on the other hand, have a tangle of mousy brown hair that can never be tamed no matter what I do to it. Regardless of how neat my hair looks when I leave the house, it is a certainty that it will look like a mini-tornado has passed me by as I step out my front door. The rest of my face is pretty plain, hazel eyes, the odd freckle and my most loathsome feature, my bum chin. Mum and dad refer to this feature as a dimple, Meg, my arch nemesis, calls it what it is, a cleft chin and she makes sure to use this term as often as possible.

Meg’s reference to my cleft chin has left me speechless and bright red on many occasions. She usually saves mention of this to times when I already feel a little socially awkward, or nervous, such as the Year 8 social with the boys’ school. The rumour was that Connor, the new boy who had transferred to the local boy’s school, was going to ask me out. Connor looked way more interesting than any of the other boys I had known. I felt sure that if he got to know me, he would see that I was probably the most interesting person he had ever met. As it happened, I turned as red as a beetroot, opened and closed my mouth like a guppy and ran out of the gym to the girl’s toilets and did not come out until it was time for my dad to come and collect me. Kate told me the next day that Meg and Connor had spent most of the night dancing and whispering to each other. This is just one of many times where Meg has used my chin to get the better of me.

Tan’s other two children, Matt and Petunia, Pet for short, are just plain weird in my opinion. They both have Lily’s fair skin, blonde hair and blue eyes, but neither of them look angelic. Matt is sixteen and always tinkering with something, building a circuit board, or learning to speak Vulcan. He permanently carries a survival kit, which he regularly performs a stocktake of and calls himself a ‘Doomsday Prepper’. One time, when our toaster was broken, he noticed it by the bin and asked if he could take it home. I imagine his room is like the den of a mad scientist.

Pet is the strangest child I have ever met; I think the rest of her family agree on this. She is only six, but she is the boss, I think even her teacher agrees on this. Pet will tell you if she doesn’t like the clothes you are wearing, or the way you have done your hair, or just you. She will ask to share your food and not take no for an answer. She licks things, including people, to find out how they taste, she has been known to steal and she is a very convincing liar. Even though she is the strangest child I have ever met, I actually like her, not that I would have let on. The camp was for children eight years old and up, but because Tan and her husband, Keith, knew the people running the camp, Pet was allowed to attend.

Resigned, I had accepted my fate, I was going to spend ten days of my Christmas holidays at camp. The camp was being held at Tuppin House on the banks of the Moore River, a little over an hour north of Perth. We had learnt about the dark history of Moore River in school. Originally intended to be a self-supporting farming settlement for local Aboriginal families, the camp became a place synonymous with the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families as a part of the government policy of breeding out the colour. Conditions the Aboriginal people were subjected to at the Moore River camp were poor and the death rate was high, especially among children. Eventually the camp was closed down, but Aboriginal people still bear the scars of this camp and others like it. I was fairly convinced it would be haunted.