The Break

The Break

by Deb Fitzpatrick


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The southwest coast of Australia is the kind of place people escape to. Unless you have lived there all your life, in which case, you long to get away. Rosie and Cray chuck in their city jobs for Margaret River while Liza, Ferg, and Sam have been there forever, working the family farm. Under pressure from developers, the families unite against change. But when a natural disaster strikes, change is inevitable.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781922089632
Publisher: Fremantle Press
Publication date: 01/01/2015
Pages: 244
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Deb Fitzpatrick is a freelance editor and writer who teaches professional writing and editing at Curtin University. She is the author of 90 Packets of Instant Noodles, The Amazing Spencer Gray, and Have You Seen Ally Queen?, of which two were made Notable Books by the Children’s Book Council of Australia.

Read an Excerpt

The Break

By Deb Fitzpatrick, Amanda Curtin

Fremantle Press

Copyright © 2014 Deb Fitzpatrick
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-922089-64-9


They'd sent Rosie Curran to make a story out of a young man's despair, though not in so many words. A story, about a guy leaping from the Leighton Beach tower — a story, for a newspaper, for people to sit down with over their morning cuppa, their bowl of muesli, their day ahead.

She'd looked straight at Frank, the news editor who farmed out each day's stories to the staff, but he wasn't going to turn flexible all of a sudden, not Frank.

'A suicide story, Frank?' she said.

'A public interest story,' he corrected. 'The psych unit turned the kid away last week.'

Rosie tried to imagine herself actually going there, waiting on her favourite beach, waiting under the tower with a speck of a man at the top. It could have been anyone — someone she knew, a friend — Christ! Anyone. And this wasn't the first rubbish story she'd had to do for The Messenger, for her stupid career, for the advertising people upstairs.

She was over it. Rosie, aged twenty-two, couldn't believe she'd stuck it out this long.

'For Christ's sake, Frank ...' She followed him into the kitchen, where the benchtop was a work of art, a collage of mug rings and shrivelled teabags. 'I don't want to go and watch a guy trying to do himself in.'

'Rosie,' he laughed, 'it's the nineties — nothing's sacred anymore.'

Isn't it? she thought. She took a breath. 'But this is a community newspaper! Surely there's another story I can cover, I mean, it's what we put in the paper that becomes news —'

'Rosie, it's a story, you're a reporter. Go and do it, alright?'

She went out to the car, took a few breaths under the jacaranda tree and weighed up her options. She could either do the story, pretend to do the story, or outright refuse to do the story.

Panic crawled out of its nasty place. She felt her temperature climb. Who was she kidding? This wasn't a school project, this was her fucking job. This was the rent, food in the fridge. Her future.

She looked west. The beach wasn't far away. Leighton was where she and Cray spent most summer Saturday mornings, the corduroy sound of sand beneath their feet, the sun grilling them from above. There was something about those times at Leighton, something that Rosie risked forgetting in between. She'd stop there on hot evenings after work, when the sky went gentle, slipping into the end of another day, and when people were breathing again, breathing their own life.


Cray watched the clear water against his skin. Leighton never disappointed, always offered something different, depending on how he felt, depending on the swell, the wind, the sun. This beach didn't have the darker, moving water of beaches down south, where you always had to watch the current, check your position against the towels that were like compass points on the beach, make sure you hadn't moved out too far, or too close to the rocks. It was almost safer on a board, Cray often thought, at least you had something to float on, to cling to if need be.

On the sand, a beachcomber with a metal detector hovered close to Cray's gear, and Cray trod water a little harder, a little higher, keeping his eye on him. Harmless old coot, he thought, nothing better to do but scour the leftovers of other people's lives. He sank down into the cool, eclipsing the old man, and poked his toes about for sand, for an idea of his depth.

It was his week off. Cray had come down from the mine on Friday night — he always took the late plane, didn't want to spend any longer out there than he had to, the nights at the mess spent drinking, smoking, swearing. The guys out there could drink, the older guys who'd been there for years and who were never gunna leave — no reason to, no wife, no family, just hard work, huge pay packets and truckloads of beer for company. Thirty-year-old Cray couldn't keep up with them, and didn't want to. Three beers and he was wandering back to the donga for the night. He had one to himself, thank god, he couldn't have hacked sharing a place with a snoring, farting, hungover grader operator. Besides, it wasn't a good thing to get too matey with the fellas; sacking non-performers was another heartening part of his job as a project engineer. As was rousing them after a night on the piss. Cray frequently had to drive from donga to donga at five-thirty in the morning, feeling fairly ordinary himself, to bang on doors, and had even had to shake a few blokes from their beds when the morning-after blur was too much. Rounding 'em up like cattle.

Aaah. It was another world out there. You had to laugh. You had to.

Rosie had said, before she'd fallen asleep, 'What do you dream about, Cray?'

Cray thought, That depends if I'm here with you or there, in the desert. He was lucky to get to sleep at all out there some nights, lay awake worrying about contractors and designs and deadlines. But he was here now, he was home. And so he dreamed about the things he could enjoy the next day.

'Beaches,' he'd told her. 'Swell.'

'Nice,' Rosie said sleepily.

The shock of the water on sticky skin. The shifting of sand and shells as peelers came through. Cray was so bloody glad he and Rosie lived by the coast, the ocean just a skin-lick away. He only wished he didn't have to leave it all the time. Settling and unsettling.

He'd asked Rosie to stop calling him when he was up at Leonora. It was better not to go through those phone calls, better just to look forward to his week off, to seeing her. And it was good, having a whole week off. He really relaxed then, going to the beach, swimming, fishing, heading to the fish pub with Rosie for a few beers and a seafood feast. But the four weeks on site, they were long weeks. And the anticipation of them was worse than actually being there. And Shitslinger. Jesus.

Cray ducked under the surface and swam along the bottom to shore, seeing if he could make it without having to come up for air. He burst up in the warm shallows.

A thin smear of cloud shaded the water. Cray scanned the carparks, lined up side by side, beach by particular beach: Leighton — the bodysurfers' beach; then the Dog Beach; followed by Cables — one of Perth's excuses for a surf spot; Cottesloe — flesh, curves, oil and bikinis; and Swanbourne, where grown men wanked in the dunes.

Cray dried off in the carpark, next to the Woody, trying not to expose himself while he pulled off his boardies from under a towel wrapped around his hips. He headed home to read the paper and loll about in the hammock, a small shell from one of the rockpools on the dash for Rosie.

He was still looking at the swell as he drove away, so he didn't see the young man climbing gingerly down the long narrow ladder of Leighton Tower, and a few people at the bottom looking upwards, looking tired.


Rosie was ready. She opened the door to The Messenger offices.

'The Messenger, please hold,' one of the secretaries was saying into her headset. 'Is Freddo down there, Rosie, do you know?'


'Oh, sorry,' she laughed, turning slightly red. She covered the microphone. 'Frank. Freddo the frog,' she whispered. 'Look-alikes.'

Rosie grinned. 'Uh, I dunno,' she said, holding up an uneaten sandwich in a paper bag. 'I've been out.'

She headed down the corridor, past the room of deadline-fearing typesetters making an impressive racket on their keyboards; past subeditors swinging to the phone every now and then to check the spelling of a local councillor's name; quickly past the desk of the eccentric editor in case he pulled her aside to pass on another story or two; past the overburdened and bored-shitless real estate writer, who had three or four thesauruses in front of her in an effort to find different words to describe kitchens in houses that were all the same; and ended up at Frank's desk.

He still used a typewriter, insisted on it, despite the typesetters' complaints. 'You've gotta move with the times, Frank,' they'd implore. 'It takes ages to re-key your stories.'

'Move with the times?' he snorted. 'I'm the only one around here doing that! And if advancement is what everyone wants, why did we just put Johnny Howard into the top job?'

Standard operating procedure: turn a conversation about outmoded office equipment into political commentary.

He patted his beloved machine and said, 'No way. This fella's more loyal than most people.' And he looked meaningfully at one of the reporters.

Another of Frank's pet topics: loyalty.

'Did any of you see that silly trumped-up cow on Channel Seven last night?' he said to no one in particular. 'We taught her everything she knows, that girl. As soon as she'd sucked us dry she was out the door.'

Now Rosie stood close to his desk, not really knowing what she was going to do.

'Have you got a minute?' she said.

'What did you get?' he said, nodding at her sandwich bag, standing up.

'Huh? Oh ... ham and salad. They're in some kind of a food coma in that joint. I'm going to ask for pitta bread with hummus and sprouts one day, just to see how they react.'

Some staff looked up from screens and notes as Rosie and Frank walked out to the courtyard where people had lunch and cigarettes.

Rosie concentrated on how she was going to start this, how this would end.

'So Rosie-bosie, how'd you go this morning?' Frank asked.

How do you think I went, Franky-wanky?

'Well ...' She took a breath. 'I didn't go.'

He tried to look as though he wasn't surprised, but Rosie had seen this look before, and she knew it well; he was pissed off.

She went in to defend herself before he could engage in his ceremonial Tearing Strips Off Stupid Young Reporter ritual. As if from a distance, she heard her voice thin with exasperation and her pitch rise, but, worse, she was regurgitating all sorts of naive clichés: 'News is for informing people about what's going on around them; it's not about satisfying morbid curiosities; it's not just about getting people to buy the paper.'

Frank looked at her with amusement.

Rosie wanted to slug him. There was a limit to how cynical you could be, surely?

'Rosie, I sent you on a job, and now we've lost a story — a good story.' He stared at her more seriously, voice searing. 'What are you — a reporter or just another bloody pipedreamer?'

Inside, phone calls had been hung up on, the radio turned down.

Rosie met Frank's eyes. 'It wasn't a good story. It was a shit story. And you're spot-on; I'm not really a reporter, if that's what it's all about.'

'For god's sake, Rosie! Don't you want to sink your teeth into something real out there? Our readers have the right to know what their local mental health service does when a kid goes there. One day it could be their kid. This is important stuff; it's uncomfortable, yes. But sometimes when there's a tragedy, following the trail of blood is what needs to happen. If comfortable's what you're looking for, go and talk to Sharyn in Lifestyle — isn't she doing a story on nail polish at the moment?' He paused to catch his breath, then said, 'The thing is ... you could be really good at this. If you'd just ...' He sighed.

Rosie stared at the ashtray. Did she hear him right? Following the trail of blood? She felt disgusted — but she could see Frank's reasoning too. Maybe she was just being pathetically naive?

He walked back into the office without her, letting the door slam shut.

Naive. She could live with that. Rosie still couldn't do it. She could live with that too.


The green Kingswood was parked outside the front of the house, frangipani poking over the bonnet. Rosie went in and dumped some old notes and her favourite thesaurus onto their bed.

Cray was sitting out the back in the shade with the paper, the blue teapot close at hand.

'Hello!' he said, confused, looking at his watchless wrist. 'What's the time?'

She kicked off her shoes and walked over the cool grass towards his patch of shade. 'One, or something.'

He reached out for a cuddle.

'How was your swim this morning?' she grinned, deferring.

'Ahhh, like Esperance water, like out of a bottle. And I had a forage in a couple of the rockpools further up in the reef.'

The water was Cray's obsession, and he'd shared it with her from the day they met. The whole coastal world had opened up to her through him: reef breaks, wind direction, headlands, currents. Before Cray, she'd felt the coast wasn't her territory. But Rosie was glad to be let in to this blue, buffeted place — to be really let in — and it was one of the things she loved most about him.

'You didn't go past the tower, did you?' asked Rosie.

'Leighton tower?'

She nodded.

'Yeah. Why?'

'Some guy was threatening to jump off it, apparently. Frank tried to get me to go down there. Talk about ambulance chasing! Arsehole.'

Cray grimaced. 'What were you meant to do when you got there? Shout up a few questions?'

Rosie looked around the back garden, slightly dazed. She noted with weird relief that their back patio needed sweeping. 'So I, um, quit. I ... left. Gave The Messenger the flick.'

She scrunched and unscrunched her toes, and reached for the teapot. 'So. I s'pose I'll give this a refill.'

'Well, hang on.' Cray grabbed her hand, trying to stop her for a minute.

She blinked into the reinvented day. 'Let me put the kettle on first.'

Cray watched Rosie walk towards the kitchen, holding the pot loose-wristedly; it might have dropped and smashed if she'd loosened her grip on it any further.

She quit.

He was stunned, impressed. He knew she'd not loved being at the paper, but she'd always justified it as a stepping-stone, a way in. If only he'd had that kind of backbone when he was in his early twenties.

Cray watched a honeyeater plop into their birdbath and preen itself on the side of the terracotta bowl. When it had flown off, he filled up the watering can, crackled across the leaves and topped it up till the water's skin gripped at the edge. Money, he thought. Bloody money. The stuff that gets you bread and milk and the latest LandCruiser is driving the world fucking bonkers — no one knows what they're doing anymore, just do whatever it is for the money, accumulate the stuff like food in a bomb shelter, just because everyone else does the same. People can't seem to bear the old brick barbie with a hotplate anymore, they need a top-of-the-range 'outdoor kitchen'. And a three-car garage that's nearly as big as their whole house. Justifying your crappy life by surrounding yourself with things provided by the money which is provided by the shit job that you absolutely hate. It was diagnosable, apparently: 'affluenza'.

He nodded at the honeyeater, now in the fig tree, cocking its head at the shimmering water, and looked at Rosie through the kitchen window with pride.

Countless rockpools along that coast cup the small lives of anemones and barnacles. Strewn about in the rushing water, they come to rest on a jut of reef, bracing against the sudden cold barrages of the sea.

A hand plunges in. Resting on the pool bottom are broken pieces of shell, long vacated. The fingers sieve them like jewels, tiny flecks of the day, skin and sweat and the skin of others swirling perfectly into the solution.


Liza watched Sam run outside. He flailed his arms and yelled at a ginger cat that was pelting away, ears flat, towards a tree. It scaled the small gum looking back at the boy only when it reached the upper branches. Sam stared at it keenly.

Take that, cat, Liza thought. You met the wrong Crowe today.

Sam ran back inside, where Liza was slapping vegemite on thick slabs of wholemeal.

'Gotta keep that cat away, Mum — they eat native birds, you know.'

Liza sighed. Sam kept everyone on their toes, even the local felines. 'I haven't seen that cat ever catch a bird, Sam, and until I do, it's welcome in this house.' Besides, it's good company, she thought. It must have been Mrs Perry's; everywhere else was too far away from the farmhouse. It was always coming in through the back door — paw hooked around the flyscreen — and, well, what harm could come from giving the friendly creature a drop of milk every now and then?

'Now eat this.' She passed Sam a plate with two bits of bread on it. 'And no more snacks until your tea, okay?'

He looked pleadingly at her and said, 'But the fairy wrens! I saw that cat stalking one on the weekend!'

'Do you have any homework to do?'

'Yessss. Practise my spelling words. And do my reading. But can I go on the Mac for just a little while, Mum?'

She looked at her watch, then nodded. 'Half an hour, and then do your homework, okay, Sam?'

As he trotted down the corridor to his bedroom, she heard a faint Okay, Mum drift her way.


Excerpted from The Break by Deb Fitzpatrick, Amanda Curtin. Copyright © 2014 Deb Fitzpatrick. Excerpted by permission of Fremantle Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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