Saving Brightwood is a tale set in the regional Australian town of Brightwood. Once a thriving metropolis, Brightwood no longer offers the abundance of jobs it once did. Over time this has meant business closures, kids leaving town in search of a new life and even once revered events and festivals no longer running. Yet despite the changes the morale among long term residents remains strong, they are hopeful for brighter Brightwood days. If only the pesky Johnny-Come-Latelys would stop telling them how to get to this point they could stop ticking boxes and get on with it.

Chapter 1 – Introducing the McNabbs

Meet Martin

Martin’s left eyebrow twitched. She’d done it again. Why, he wondered, must an obviously mature, apparently educated woman with significant years in the service of the public do this?

Martin had told his PA Rhonda a thousand and one times to respect the difference between the semicolon and the colon. Did she listen?

Apparently not.

He imagined storming into her office, paper in hand:

“Jesus Rhonda” he would rant, pinning her to her grammatically incorrect monitor with his glare.

“How many times do I have to tell you about the difference between a colon and semicolon?” His finger would stab the paper, as tears of sorrow collected in the folds of her retirement ready decolletage.

But he didn’t. Martin was an expert of passive aggressive warfare. He knew he could say more with the adjustment of an eyebrow than applying the roar of the bogans he’s had the misfortune to manage for most of his working life.

Besides, it wasn’t the McNabb way.

Martin McNabb was a fat, miserable little prick.

He was a fat, miserable little prick born to two fat, miserable little pricks both spanning generations of fat, miserable, little pricks.

The McNabb clan were rotund, with short stocky legs, and stubby fingers jutting out of podgy hands. No McNabb had dared stepped out of the Thermomix of life in any other fashion, simultaneously equipped with a customary air of misery and facial expression of general contempt which was described among the female McNabbs as resting bitch face. There was no comparative description for the male McNabbs.

Family gatherings at the McNabb household were a sight to behold.  If you can imagine the sterile environment of a mortuary combined with the procedures of a banking institute, those were the transactions of McNabb family Christmases.

Even though life had not blessed Martin McNabb with the family he had once longed for, since relinquishing desires of such folly he had resolved to nurture a close and loving relationship with his canine companion fondly titled Starr, named after a woman dubbed by his mother Mary as the “Succubus”. A woman who had led Martin on an adventure through the hinterland of the Northern Rivers of NSW in the summer of 1982 following a Schoolies Week he would never forget (yet could not quite remember).

It was 2 February 1983 when Mary McNabb travelled to Nimbin to rescue her son from the clutches of the Succubus. Exactly three and a half weeks after his return to the McNabb family home of Vaucluse was anticipated, and exactly ten days prior to commencement of the Bachelor of Political Science that Martin had coveted prior to his flirtation with the dark side.

Leaving Nimbin had been the hardest thing Martin had done in his life thus far. In fact, it was so difficult that he had decided there and then, well, when he came out of the drug fog anyway, that he would never give his heart away again.

He had fallen hook, line and sinker for the voluptuous Sarah “Starr” Tidey the evening he met her sitting on Cavil mall as he scoffed a lamb kebab he’d procured from one of the local late night Lebanese eateries. Well, eatery was used loosely as it was currently under warning from the local health inspector who had gladly embraced a kind donation of $500 for his ‘retirement fund’ in return for a very quick inspection.

It had been a tough night on the town. Martin had tried now for four nights running to pull a chick on the dance floor, all his mates had runs on the board and Martin, as usual was the odd one out. He had left his mates in Kaletos around 2am, deciding to give his dignity a rest. As he left the club the tantalising kebab aroma wafted up his nose, a stark contrast to the smell of Southern Comfort, cigarettes and vomit back in the club.

He saw a prey he knew he could conquer, he ordered the lamb kebab with the lot handed over a fiver and had just had his first delicious bite when the stranger whispered in his left ear

“can I ava bite?”

He turned to the left with a shock, instantly sobering up and shifting his prized kebab to the right hand side for protection.

“I beg your pardon”

Martin replied as his jaw dropped to his lap.

Beside him was a site worthy of at least one bite of his lamb kebab. She was a tie dyed rainbow vision with locks of auburn hair sprouting wildly from her head and covering much of her upper body. Through the jungle of locks Martin could just make out a set of piercing green eyes.

It was if he had been hit by a truck, right then and there he was hooked.

Martin shared half of his kebab that night and as the juices dripped from the tasty delicacy down to their elbows, their drunken conversation took on a more serious tone.

As it turned out Sarah (who preferred to be known as Starr, with two intentional r’s) had been kicked out of her schoolies apartment by her cheating boyfriend who had traded her in for a surfie chick. Starr wasn’t so phased, she told Martin she was just waiting to finish the stash and she was going to leave anyway. Martin didn’t know what kind of stash she was talking about but the information was redundant to him in any case. She was here now, with him.

The conversation went until 5am, at which time Martin knew there was no other choice than to follow his heart into the depths of the hinterland. By 8am they had hitched back to her much older friend’s farm house just off the main street of the ramshackle town. He said they could stay in the sunroom. Martin fell almost immediately into the most blissful sleep of his life.

An awakening

Around 2pm the following day Martin was woken by a godforsaken noise, sounding like someone trying to simultaneously light a bonfire and blow bubbles in water. Perplexed he looked up to see his new love sucking on the neck of an Orchy bottle, her cheeks drawn as she focused on making the most of the long drag, her eyes bloodshot red indicating there had probably been several earlier successful attempts.

Martin thought she was the most beautiful creature his eyes had ever laid eyes on.

She drew back the THC laden smoke and held her breath smirking at him. After what seemed a long time Martin sat bolt upright determined to save his new love as she choked on the toxic brew. But she was OK, she blew smoke rings towards Martin until her lungs had completely expired and she sat in a sedated, satisfied cross legged pose.

“Cone?” She offered.

Even though Martin had once sucked on a joint that was going around at a school camp, he had never had a cone before. He’d heard all kinds of stories about them though from people who had accidentally and embarrassingly drank the bong water to others who had had a whack of hydro that sent them bonkers. He valued the future that was laid out for him just about as much as he wanted to please his new found love.

“Maybe when I’m a bit more awake” he stalled.

“OK” she replied as she packed herself another, repeating the long, drawn out puffing billy routine.

He was enthralled. Never had he witnessed such a goddess like, woman of the world.

She took his hand and summonsed him up and out of the bed leading him out to the back deck.

The view was as different from his familiar city surrounds as it could be. Green pastures scattered with cows, goats and sheep nestled in a dense bushland. It was paradise and he’d found his eve.

She offered the bong again and this time he took the bait. He tried to look cool as he choked and spluttered sending her into fits of laughter. Abashed he packed another and this time held his breath for twice as long as she had, blowing a steam engine of smoke towards the sky returning her wry smile.

They kissed as the sun set over the Valleys and the following three weeks are history.

Martin could well have stayed had his mother, Mary not hunted him down.

Martin’s ‘mates’ had given Mary a tip off when she phoned the apartment three days after Martin had gone missing. His mates hadn’t really noticed his absence at the time, only prompted when Mary phoned pretending at first that he was in the shower, then at the beach, at the movies, picking up some food. The truth was the little shits were quite pleased he’d gone. They had suffered Martin throughout their Senior high school years and thought it would be a good laugh to bring him along. A laugh at Martin’s expense. Besides, he was the only one in the midst with a Gold card.

Eventually Mary sniffed a rat and got on a plane to Coolangatta airport.

Mary’s detective skills rivalled that of the Gold Coast Police force and her husband’s cheque book ensured the police were at her beck and call. She was going to find her boy come hell or highwater and drag him back to the real world at the earliest possible inconvenience.

And drag him back she did.

These days ‘Starr’ the pooch was the only reminder of the time that shall not be spoken of. This four legged Starr was suitably lavished with the attention Martin may have otherwise given to a niece of nephew, or even a child of his own.  But the McNabb family were not blessed with another generation.  The canines were it.

It wasn’t that he set out in life to make the lives of others difficult, nor was he born with a roll of red tape in hand (though the midwife present at his birth may tell you he was the only baby who had ever refused to budge until all the checks and measures were in place).

No child starts life intent to make the lives of others an administrative misery.  Yet, over the years Martin McNabb had grown rather fond of his ability to control the pace of the world juggling what he saw as his key employment attributes; His ability to influence, his old boys network who had become oddly familiar as he rose through the ranks, his love of good policy designed to control the masses and his father’s cheque book.

In fact, if he was to be completely honest, Martin would tell you his version of erotica was rejecting a funding payment due to non-compliance.

As he hurtled towards his 53rd birthday Martin was looking forward to gliding into his senior years (senior in terms of employment grade that is). Martin didn’t entertain the idea of retiring until it was absolutely necessary, relishing the leadership era of his political idol John Howard.

There were errors to detect and Martin was going to detect them. Martin saw this task as his anointed role as a public servant. He would save his great country from financial collapse one cost saving identification of erroneous work at a time.  In the words of his political idol  “You can’t fatten the cow on market day”.

Living the dream

Martin and Rhonda worked from the office of Communities. Martin’s senior bureaucrat role was titled “Senior Regional Project Advisor”. In Martin’s humble opinion his trusty PA (not that Martin trusted her), Rhonda should have been put out to pasture some years ago. Martin knew there was a SMART revolution coming, he also knew that it was not going to be led by sixty something year old biddies wearing Easy Steps.

Clearly Martin had not done his dues with the Country Women’s Association. Otherwise his respect for Easy Steps, and old biddies may have been reinforced. But that lesson was in Martin’s future.

 

Mary McNabb

Mary distinctly remembered that balmy February afternoon in the grimy back streets of the Northern Rivers feral town of Nimbin. Never in her well healed fifty years on the planet had she witnessed such squalor.

She was pleased she’d arranged for her trusty driver John to meet her with the Audi to venture into the grimy streets of Nimbin. His familiarity gave her some comfort as she contemplated where she’d gone wrong with child number three. Perhaps she had taken her eyes off the plan as she parented her youngest child, he had always been such a sweet boy. Mary thought he would simply succumb to the expectations of McNabb life. Mary had been wrong and now it was blindingly obvious she should have been watching just a little closer rather than all that charity work and bridge.

Afterall, Martin was born in the winter of the first ever Beatles tour to Australia, a time of catastrophic change in the Australian cultural landscape which she was sure had somehow sprinkled into his genetic makeup. He had always been just a little left of centre. She should have expected this.

She consoled herself in the role she had played in maintaining law and order in an otherwise chaotic time of free will. Mary shuddered as she thought of the revolting hippies, feminists and society changers and the way in which they infiltrated otherwise stable and safe corners of society. Life had never been the same.

The hairs on the back of her neck still stood bolt upright as she recalled finding her beloved son, head shoved in a bright yellow bucket with vile smelling smoke not entirely dissimilar to that of the septic fruit bats that hung with contempt of clean society by the grimy rivers edge not far from the squalid shack from where she rescued her son.

Mary couldn’t imagine why her son was imbibing from a bucket, nor what could be in it but she did know that it couldn’t be good.

However, the thing that bothered Mary just more than the bucket bong that filled her son’s lungs was the dirty attire in which hung off his body. Some sort of natural (dirt) coloured hemp wide legged pants topped off with a tie dyed t-shirt. Short fat men were not cut out for this kind of outfit and it was a million miles from the Louis Vuitton suit she had planned for his university entrance in just a few days.

Martin would later gloat about tie dying the shirt himself. Mary had long since made him burn the outfit in the backyard of the Nimbin Hotel where she had rented a room for half a day to clean him up. Although she was desperate to get the hell out of that cesspit there was no way she was sitting next to that for the next nine hours as the car hurled towards her Sydney home.

His now greasy hair clung to the sides of his scalp and on his top lip appeared to be a cluster of caterpillars nesting, although, with enormous disgust Mary realised it was most likely Martin’s first attempt at a moustache.

She shuddered at the site of her boy and wondered just how such a promising young lad had suddenly turned over to the dark side.

And then she realised.

Next to the yellow bucket sat a mop of wild curly hair with braless boobs hanging out over the top of a tight, dirty singlet. Underneath the hair and boobs were another pair of wide legged dirt coloured pants.

The woman who would be known as Succubus lifted her head showing what might have been a pretty face had Mary not have already decided that she was an evil witch sent to drag her son into the fiery depths of hell.  Starr’s eyes glowed red, topping off the persona.

“Owzit gahn?” Starr addressed Mary in what could have been a friendly gesture.

Mary had no time to learn a new language on this occasion. She swiftly grabbed her progeny by the arm and dragged him out the door. He was too off his face to refuse and instead succumbed to his 18 years of compliance training… What mummy says, Martin does.

And that was that. Well, so Mary thought anyway.

She hadn’t accounted for the pull of the delicious combination of rebellion, his first hands on experience with a real-life woman and the intoxicating adventure Martin had been on which broke just about every convention his previously staged and planned out life had brought.

This one was not going to fade away quickly. It didn’t take long for the communication to recommence following Martin’s return to Sydney. Mary knew she had to act and act fast before her son started University and her realm of control would be limited.

She did what any self-respecting parent would do in such case. She cut the Succubus a cheque and sent her on her way.

Over the years that followed Mary had remained vigilant ensuring a confident, mentor or ‘friend’ incentivised by dad McNabb’s cheque book was always close to Martin to ensure such folly didn’t ever present again. Although Martin had experienced many moments of appreciation for his incredible luck in finding what seemed to be the right people at the right time he seemed completely oblivious of his mother’s constant monitoring.

The latest plant was Rhonda Parker was perhaps a testament to Mary’s growing years, however a recipient of the McNabb cheque book Rhonda was no less.

And so the wild hiccup in Martin’s timeline lay dormant, well, for the following thirty and a bit years anyway…

 

 

 

 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

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