Cast of Characters
Bill: their father
UNDER THE FOREST
(SETTING; A WINDSWEPT HILL, SOUND OF COWS,
MAGPIES. WE HEAR YOUNGER JOHN’S VOICE CALLING
ACROSS THE BARE HILLS)
Caleb! Caleb! (THE VOICE FADES) Ca-lebbb!!
This is a story about our land…
…this is a story about the forest…
…how we cleared the land…
…this is a story about how to forget…
…and about my brother Caleb…
…my brother Caleb…
…who gave his bones to our land…
…who the soil will never find…
We went there…no, we came here…in 1879. We came
here. My father, my brother, Caleb and me. We left
the women in Melbourne – too dangerous for them. We
walked from Lang Lang, along McDonald’s Track, rested
at Poowong and turned South the way a hawk turns in
the air. We went deep, deep into the forest. Too deep
SOUND: THE SUCK OF MUD, COMPLAINTS AND BREATHING OF THE
PACK HORSE. FLOODING RAIN POURING OFF THE TREES
Caleb. Get behind the fucken horse – hit the damn thing.
Caleb, get behind the fucken horse – hit the damn thing.
SOUND: CALEB CRYING
SOUND: THEY STRUGGLE TO GET THE HORSE FREE
What’s wrong with your brother?
’Caleb,’I said, ’be quiet. Don’t make it worse.’
(NIGHT IN THE FOREST)
SOUND: THE CALLING OF MANY FROGS, MOSTLY DROWNED OUT BY
SOUND: CALEB SOBBING
They say in Tasmania, the blacks forgot how to make
fire – instead they passed firesticks between groups
and tribes. In the dark, in the rain, we had no
tribe and we had no firestick.
SOUND: MATCHES BEING STRUCK AND DYING
I don’t know about the Gippsland blacks. They were
already gone from here. They weren’t even shadows.
’God willing,’ my father said, ’we’ll soon have a
roof over our heads and a good pasture.’ ’We will
open up,’ my father said, ’the land, the sky, the
earth. We will return the land to God above.’
SOUND: CALEB SOBBING
Caleb! Shut your-
Mouth? Eyes? Heart? I don’t remember. The rain poured
out of the darkness, night after night. In the day,
we sometimes met men coming the other way, tired,
haunted men, so that we became quietly convinced we
were heading for the front line of a battle.
3. THE SOUND OF THE AXE
SOUND: SUDDENLY, ALL IS SILENT
SOUND: BILL RUNNING THROUGH MUD TOWARDS US, BREATHING HARD
Then we stopped.In the morning, our father vanished
into the scrub and returned at midday in great
excitement. ’We’re here,’ he said. ’Here!’ Where else
would we be if not here? ’No,’ he shouted, ’you don’t
understand. Here! I found the survey
marks. Here! We are here!’ We were here. Here, but
SOUND: A STORM BUILDS.
’Nowhere’, my brother said. Nowhere
SOUND: THE THUD OF AN AXE ECHOES THROUGH THE FOREST. IN
THE DISTANCE, MORE AXES
Here she goes!
SOUND: THE SLOW CREAK AND FALL OF A BIG TREE, THEN A LOUD
CRASH AS IT HITS THE UNDERSTOREY AND A THUD AS IT HITS THE
SOUND: CALEB SCREAMS
SOUND: BILL BEGINS CHOPPING AT SMALL SAPLINGS TO CLEAR THE
When does ’there’ become ’here’?
SOUND: A BIG SAW CUTTING TIMBER.
We built a bark house and hid from the rain. We
flattened a small clearing and opened ourselves to
God. I’ve forgotten this…but in the forest you lose
the sense of God’s omniscience. You just become this
creature scurrying beneath the canopy, like a
cockroach under a leaf.
SOUND: CALEB RUNNING THROUGH THE FOREST, CRASHING,
FALLING, BREATHING IN PURE PANIC.
(INTERIOR. A FEW MONTHS LATER. THEY’VE BUILD A
SOUND: FIRE GOING IN THE HEARTH. NIGHT SOUNDS OUTSIDE
My father lit his pipe from the fire and I always
fell asleep to the book of Genesis, but my brother
just stared into the fire. ’Nowhere’ he mumbled.
SOUND: A CHAIR SLIDING
Where are you going?
Where did you go? Where did you go?
(SEVERAL VOICES CALLING)
SOUND: VOICES RESONATE THROUGH THE FOREST
6. Act Two: Mary
(ON THE VERANDAH)
SOUND: A BUTTER CHURN, A COW MOOING IN THE BACKGROUND, A
SOUND STILL RESONANT AMONGST THE TALL TREES
My brother Caleb walked into the forest. We walk
through, we walk around, we cut tracks, we avoid and
flatten. My brother walked into the
forest. Into. Into. I see him going. I see him
walking out of the house and walking into the night.
But don’t tell no-one, because they’ll say I wasn’t
there – and I wasn’t, but I still remember it. I
still saw him go – somehow. They sent word – about
Caleb – and then my father fetched us – me and my mum
and my two sisters. He led us into the darkness. I
like it there, in the darkness – with my brother
SOUND: CHURNING STOPS
’Take out all the buttermilk, or the butter will go
rancid. Mary!’ I heard you, mother.
SOUND: POURING, THEN THE CHURNING STARTS AGAIN
They ringbarked most of the trees before we arrived –
the men did. We lived our early years there among the
dead and dying trees. Sometimes you’d hear one fall
and my Mum would cross herself because it had fallen
out of harm’s way. But mostly you’d hear the axes
going. That was one of the sounds. And there was
the birds, lots of birds. And the lyrebirds. And the
SOUND: A PIANO, FAR IN THE DISTANCE
I always heard it. Who had a piano?
SOUND: FOOTSTEPS ON THE VERANDAH
’Father, who had a piano?’ ’Nobody!’ he shouted. ’You
can’t get a piano down the track!’ Somewhere there
was a piano – somewhere in the forest. And somewhere
there was my brother Caleb – somewhere in the forest.
SOUND: FOOTSTEPS MOVING AWAY
Where are you going, Father? ’Nowhere,
daughter’. Where are you going. Brother? ’Nowhere,
Sister’ – the other side of nowhere. They each
searched within their own despair. Despair is never
7. Night with Caleb
SOUND: LIGHT SNORING
SOUND: NIGHT SOUNDS, FROGS, THE BARK OF A KOALA IN THE
I did see him, a shadow framed in the timbers of the
Caleb, don’t go.
SOUND: MARY BREATHING HARD AND CRASH OF FOLIAGE AS SHE
FOLLOWS CALEB THROUGH THE BUSH
They say I sleepwalked until I was fifteen, but they
really knew I was chasing Caleb down. He was always
just ahead of me.
He always turned to look at me from the same
spot. Then he’d sink into the grove of tree ferns
down by the creek and he’d be gone.
Mary. Mary, for chrissake, wake up.
I saw…I saw…
We’re putting a lock on you door! We’re sick of
We’re sick of this. Sick.
SOUND: WE HEAR A MAGPIE CALLING
Was that the first magpie – the first true morning? I
don’t think anyone noticed their arrival. With their
first song they manage to convince us they’d always
been there. Soon the lyrebirds picked up the sound,
just as they picked up other sounds that signaled
their demise; the axe and the saw. They sang at
their own funeral.
SOUND: MOVEMENT THROUGH SCRUB.
Every morning, my brother and father continued to
search for Caleb, though they would deny that this is
what they were doing. I always only followed John. He
searched the dark gullies and the wet south side of
the hill. He never crossed the creek east to the
neighbours, nor the invisible line south to the other
neighbours. It was as though even the worst of
conclusions respected the surveyor’s line.
God help us.
He always crossed the spot where Caleb stopped to
look at me. I always thought he would sense something
and stop. Then he did.
SOUND: MOVEMENT STOPS.
John, what is it?
He reached down and picked up something, in the very
You seen this?
What is it, John.
It’s just rubbish.
It was a stone axe. It was in the very spot where
Caleb always stopped. I’m sure it was the very
Just rubbish from before, when the blacks came
He put the axe down very carefully, reverently. And
the next day I followed him, he came the same way and
stopped again to look at the axe.
SOUND: A LYREBIRD STARTS UP
They say that lyrebirds will imitate a sound they
have only heard once. And they pass the sound to
their children and their children’s children. One
day I’ll listen to every sound they make and know
everything about this place. Maybe one of them has
Caleb on the tip of his tongue-
7. THE CREEK
(A PICNIC DOWN THE CREEK)
SOUND: A BUBBLING CREEK. HAPPY CHILDREN, LAUGHTER
On Sundays we would put on our best suits and frocks
and we would picnic amongst the ferns and mosses down
at the creek. The happy children look for nymphs and
water sprights, but I look for Caleb’s face in the
water. Sometimes his face hovers, sometimes it flows
downstream. The water bends his face into ever more
painful expressions, or sometimes a vicious smile.
SOUND: THE THUD OF AN AXE IN THE DISTANCE
That’s right – the new people further down the creek.
’What sort of people work on a Sunday?’ my Mother
would say. She crosses herself as though to ward off
8. The big clear
(SHE IS LISTENING FROM THE VERANDAH)
SOUND: MIDDLE DISTANCE, WE HEAR VOICES AND A LOT OF AXES
The quickest way to clear the wooded slopes – cut
blazes in all the trees to weaken them, and then
choose a monster at the top of the hill to bring down
SOUND: SHIFTING STEPS ON THE VERANDAH, SOUND OF A WHISKEY
But how could my father have been there with me and
not leading the cut himself. Was he already drinking
then. ’Listen now…’ he kept saying, ’listen now…’
SOUND: THE CREAK OF A HUGE TREE GOING. THEN IT CRASHES
AND TUMBLES AND SETS UP A HUGE CACOPHONY AS OTHER TREES
I watched my father’s face. As the trees fell he
grew more and more pale and he began to shiver with
fever. Then we set it alight and watched it burn
SOUND: A FIRE BUILDS AND DRAWS CLOSE, THEN STOPS ABRUPTLY
No! No, it was years before we had a dry enough
SOUND: HEAVY RAIN, THEN STOPS ABRUPTLY
First we had the rain.
No, first we had the soil. Bare soil, rich and
dark. My father held it up to the clear, blue sky.
He tossed it up towards Heaven. ’I offer you this
soil, O God, to bless that it be full of life.’
This is my fucking land! I sacrificed-’
’-my first-born son for you.’ I hated my father from
that point. I thought I was just angry, but when I
calmed down the hatred stayed
SOUND: HEAVY RAIN, BUILDING TILL IT IS VERY LOUD
The soil washed down the hills into the gullies and
then the creek. The creek ran with blood red
soil. God hated my father too – for his blasphemy
and his pride. And punished him with plagues of
bracken and wattle, and stink bugs and fleas. All
around us lay the bodies of fallen trees. We got on
with life as though the dead could be ignored. When
it was all done and when it was a burned, I never
felt Caleb’s presence again. I still look for him in
the empty land – living or dead, I still look for
SOUND: A FIRE BUILDS AND DRAWS CLOSE AND BECOMES LOUD AND
(MORE DISTORTED THAN BEFORE)
Act Three: After The Burn
(THE EMPTY LAND)
SOUND: WIND ACROSS A BARE HILL
SOUND: MAGPIES SINGING IN THE MIDDLE DISTANCE, COWS
CALLING TO BE MILKED
The land is marginal – at best. The rains pick their
time and place – I suppose they always did.
SOUND: VERY HEAVY RAIN OUTDOORS
SOUND: SOMEONE SLIPPING IN THE MUD
Ah Christ! John! John!
SOUND: RAIN AND MUD SUDDENLY STOP
The new pasture couldn’t hold the soil in the heavy
rain. What was I supposed to do? The creek boiled an
angry muddy red. Sometimes one or more of our cattle
washed up somewhere downstream. Sometimes we buried
stock from upstream. We mostly got by anyway,
especially if it rained at the right time. But the
land began to sag under the open sky. So did my
father, until he was brown and small like a dried out
walnut. In the forest he had been tall and upright,
but the open sky weighted him down. In the rain he
seemed to melt and give in to gravity.
(MELBOURNE CIRCA 1920S)
SOUND: A BUSY STREETSCAPE, TRAMS, SOME CARS, PEDESTRIANS.
THE SOUND SHOULD MIRROR THE BUSINESS AND COMPLEXITY OF THE
I don’t believe there are any ghosts in the city. The
nature of city life is Forgetting. Everything calls
to you in the here and now. This is misinterpreted
as a great failing, but it is the nature of things.
Erasure, amnesia, failing, fading.
’erald! ’eeerald! Lady?
No thank you.
The birds in the forest…
SOUND: FOREST BIRDS
… forget. Every song, every call erases everything
that came before. Their genius – the genius of all
nature is that it even forgets itself. That is how
it extracts energy from the moment. Even the
lyrebird – it doesn’t remember – it only performs. I
asked the lyrebird where my brother Caleb was. It
didn’t know. I asked the forest, but it didn’t know
– it has no memory only accretion and resonance.
(THE EMPTY LAND)
My father and I found the bones a few weeks after the
burn. We had both searched, without telling one
another, maybe without even knowing we were doing
it. For weeks we searched and just when we began to
SOUND: SHARP INTAKE OF AIR.
SOUND: SHARP INTAKE OF AIR.
’Just some black’ he said, from long, long ago.
Maybe ten years ago, maybe a hundred. Who
knows? Who cares?
We silently buried the bones, and the only prayer we
muttered was a solemn vow to tell no-one.
No-one. You hear me? Ever?
SOUND: HEAVY RAIN
And then, when the rains came, my father and I sat on
the veranda and watched our soil wash down into the
creek. And we both asked the same silent question –
did we bury those bones deep enough?