Ashes from the Headland
November 27, 2012 — 21:52

Author: Dorothy Johnston  Category:   Comments: Off

Queenscliff sea pilots


Ashes from the Headland (not yet published) was a finalist in the 2012 Griffith Review novella competition.

The origins of European settlement at Port Phillip Bay, a grave robbed of the bones of one of these first settlers, and a deadly family quarrel; these three themes are brought together at the start of Ashes from the Headland.

Chris and Jane are two sisters whose ancestor was a convict, transported to Sullivan’s Bay in 1803, on the first ship bringing convicts to what would become the colony of Victoria. The sisters meet to take a ferry trip and visit their forbear’s grave, only to find it has been ransacked. The purpose of the trip is to remind Jane of their family’s origins – Chris is in no danger of forgetting – but it has another, more urgent purpose too. Their mother, who has cancer, has been estranged from Jane, her elder daughter, for many years, and it is Chris’s dearest wish to bring about a reconciliation before she dies.

As the story unfolds and the family conflict deepens, the beginnings of this conflict in the sisters’ childhood are recalled and lived through once again. Their father’s disappearance when they were adolescents is something for which Jane has never forgiven their mother; Jane believes she forced him out. And Jane has never forgiven Chris either, for taking their mother’s side.

Chris conceives of an extraordinary way to bring her sister round, and to bring Jane and their mother together again, if only long enough for their mother to say goodbye.