The Girl from Barellan

story by Neridah McMullin , illustrated by Marjorie Crosby-Fairall


THE OLD MAN leans back in his garden chair. The heat of the day makes the iron roof of the house tick and creak, and the peppercorn trees are alive with the steady buzz of a thousand bees. He half-dozes as he listens.

A little voice travels over the fence to where he’s sitting. ‘One hundred and eight, one hundred and nine, one hundred and ten.’

Evonne comes here every day to hit a rubber ball with a homemade bat against an old chimney wall. She’s six years old and she’s an obsessive ball hitter.

Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.

‘One hundred and eleven, one hundred and twelve, one hundred and thirteen …’

Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.

Evonne plays her own little tournament, in her own little world. Her bare feet dance and skip in the red dust, swift and quick, reaching and lunging. She meets every ball.

She uses a stick to write in the dirt how many times she’s hit the ball on the first bounce. Then she comes back again the next day to better it.

Forehand. Backhand. Volley.

Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.

Skimming backhand; crisp volley—Evonne loves to play.

Her burning feet interrupt the game and she sprints off, leaping over white spear grass to get across to the tap at the lawn tennis club to cool them down.

Flocks of pink–breasted galahs screech and swoop, and then Evonne’s back at the wall again.

Forehand. Backhand. Volley.

Thwack. Thwack. Thwack.

‘She’s got it.’ The old man chuckles. He prides himself as a good judge of the game of tennis.

A woman can be heard asking her older children, Barbara and Larry, to take Evonne with them to tennis.

‘Oh, Mum. She’s too little.’

‘Take her anyway; let her have a go.’

‘She’s too little; they won’t let her play.’

‘I reckon they might,’ she smiles.

* * *

Soon the children are at tennis, doing ‘The drill’. The voice of their coach rings out across the court …

‘Get ready! Back swing! Impact! Spin! Follow-through! Again!’

And they do it again. And again. And again. … so many times that it’s etched like poetry into their memories.

‘Ready! Back swing! Impact! Spin! Follow-through! Again!’

Thirty children move in perfect rhythm and time to the chant of the coach. And among them is a young girl, much smaller than the others …

* * *

The old man leans back in his lounge chair. In the cool of the night, he can hear the buzz of television sets. Lights shine in every window in the town of Barellan. He half dozes as he listens and waits. The town listens and waits for the Wimbledon Women’s Final to begin.

The centre court crowd cheers.

The commentators chatter …

And here she is, ladies and gentlemen, she’s a young slip of a girl, an Australian Aboriginal, Miss Evonne Goolagong. Only nineteen years of age … destined to be a champion.’

Evonne’s feet dance and skip on the manicured lawn, swift and quick, reaching and lunging. She hits the ball sweet and hard.

A skimming backhand, a crisp volley. Evonne smiles as she plays.

A sharply angled forehand volley.

She chases down every ball, laughing if she muffs a shot and sorry if she belts an unreturnable ball to her opponent. She covers the court with sublime ease and instinctive movement.

A delicate drop shot.

‘Deuce,’ calls the umpire.

Evonne’s serve is deep and deceptive.

‘Advantage, Miss Goolagong,’ calls the umpire.

Halfway around the world, an old man and a town draw breath and wait and hope with fingers crossed.

A sweepingly beautiful one-handed stroke with top spin deceives her opponent.

‘Game, set and match to Miss Goolagong, from Australia.’

Those who saw her play that day were never the same again. They were captivated by her grace and poise; her serenity lifted their spirits. They felt privileged to witness a young girl play for the love of the game instead of personal gain.

The old man smiles and wipes a tear from his eye, and as he dozes off he is sure he can hear counting …

‘One hundred and fourteen, one hundred and fifteen, one hundred and sixteen …’

 

***

Worksheet

Ee and ea sounds