by Susannah Strauss

Short Film

Stunted Timber

An original play
Susannah Strauss
Emily Halem
Tom Halem
Tim Halem (Dad)
Patrick Walch (Walchy)
Charles McSweeney
Molly Ruffet
Jess McSweeney
Miss Kingston (Teacher)
Little Boy

(EMILY is spotlighted centre front stage. The chorus is positioned in various poses around the classroom. Lights are dim in the classroom which is centre stage)

EMILY I love a sunburnt country
A land of sweeping plains
Of ragged mountain ranges
Of drought

ALL and flooding rains
I love her far horizons
I love her jewel-sea
Her beauty and her terror
A wide brown land

EMILY For me life was full of games. Everyone was happy. Back then we had no problems; grown ups had problems. We were just innocent children. (EMILY walks back towards classroom and takes a position. Lights brighten on classroom) But that was all so long ago.

TOM Anyone for a game of footy at lunch?

MCSWEENEY Dunno, its gonna be a scorcher of a day.

TOM Oh come on.

WALCHY But we ain't got enough people, Tom

TOM What?

WALCHY Well Megsy an 'is little brother 'ave both gone off to boardin' school and the Peterson boys aren't here today.

MCSWEENEY Maybe some of the girls will play.

(MCSWEENEY nudges MOLLY and then the group of girls unfreeze as the boys freeze)

MOLLY Well last night we get a call from Andy Peterson

JESS Yeh, and

(TEACHER walks into the classroom. All characters unfreeze)

TEACHER Class take your seats

JESS Well?

MOLLY I'll tell you later

TEACHER Quietly Children. I have some sad news to tell you. Last night a terrible thing happened (suspended pause) Mr Peterson, Johnny, shot himself.

(Characters freeze)

EMILY And just like that on a hot summer morning filled with blow flies and sleeping dogs, our
lives changed. We had to grow up.

(Lights fade on classroom and brighten right stage. EMILY and TOM walk to the kitchen table where DAD is seated.)

EMILY When we sat down to dinner that night. There was no talk of wool prices or the level of
the water tank. All to be heard was the buzzing of cicadas and the new Kelpie pup
whimpering at the screen door.

(DAD drinks beer and slams on table)

DAD So you know?

EMILY Yeh Dad, we know.

TOM No Emily, we don't. All we know is Sam and Andy's dad shot himself last night by the
shearing shed. We don't really know.

EMILY Why would Johnny do such a thing Dad, Dad?

TOM Dad!?

DAD Times are tough, son.

(TOM and DAD freeze)

EMILY Today was not just a turning point in our lives it was our first real telling of economic harshness. (EMILY stands up) Sure we'd lived through bad crops, low wool prices and no rain. This year though, this year it had seemed different. Banks were burning farmers as easily as the sun does skin.

(TOM and EMILY start to walk into the classroom. The characters unfreeze.)

TOM So boys who's up for a game of cricket at lunch?

WALCHY Tom, we ain't got enough people, remember?

MCSWEENEY Like I said the other day, maybe the girls will play.

MOLLY Why would you want us to do that?

WALCHY Cos' without youse we can't play.

TOM I don't believe this. In a whole school we don't have enough people to play a blasted game of cricket.

LITTLE BOY It's enough to make a man sick.

TEACHER Tom, Molly are you finished?

TOM Yes miss, we're finished.

(Characters freeze. EMILY walks towards home)

EMILY I arrived home that afternoon to an empty house. Tom was at footy training a town over and Dad was feeding the sheep in the top paddock. I was just about to take the rubbish down to the empty dam when Pat Walch, Tom's best friend came rattling down our road in his hold EH.
(WALCHY walks from left stage towards the kitchen scene.)

WALCHY Hey Em, watcha up to?

EMILY Not much. Tom's not here, he's at training in Walpie.

WALCHY I didn't come to see him.

EMILY Oh well, Dad's feedin' the sheep.

WALCHY Em, can we talk?


WALCHY I really don't know how to say this.

EMILY What have I done?

WALCHY Oh nothing. (nervously) It's what you'll do to me after I say what I want to say, is what's botherin' me.

(DAD enters right stage)

DAD G'day Patrick. Tom's at training in Walpie, he'll be back round 7.

WALCHY Yeh thanks Tim, but I already knew.

DAD Oh ya did, did ya?

EMILY Well Pat?

WALCHY Well I was wondering, maybe'd ahh&

DAD When ya ready Pat.

WALCHY Do you wanna go to the Easter Dance with me?

DAD Love too.

WALCHY Ah, I meant...

(DAD and WALCHY freeze)

EMILY Here is this boy, my brother's best friend standing before me, his heart in his hand asking me, Emily Halem out. He'd seen me through chicken pox, scraped knees and knew every stupid thing I'd ever done. The boy next door, even though next door was thirty minutes away. Of course I said yes.

(DAD and WALCHY unfreeze)


EMILY Yeh, all right.

(WALCHY walks towards the classroom)

EMILY No one knows Australia where the skyline's flat like we do. If a person lives here long enough the country can consume them. Although, some people aspire for places where the skylines not so flat and that's fine.

(EMILY exits stage left)

TEACHER &.and that would be time for lunch. Enjoy.

TOM I'm glad that's over!


TOM Why? Because its Maths.

LITTLE BOY But I like Maths.

MCSWEENEY That's because ya seven. Countin' apples is easy.

LITTLE BOY Yeh, and it makes you hungry too.

(boys freeze, girls unfreeze)

MOLLY Did you hear about Emily and Pat?

JESS No, what?

MOLLY Pat asked Emily to the dance.

(EMILY enters right stage)

JESS Why? Oh, hi Em?

(WALCHY stands up and takes EMILY'S hand)

WALCHY G'day Em.


MOLLY See I told you.

(MOLLY hits JESS' leg)

JESS Ow! Molly, shush!

TOM Yeh can it Moll, as I was sayin'. Last night, I was thinking of what an ace time Megsy would be havin' at boardin' school.

MOLLY Why would anyone think of him?

TOM Just forget it.

EMILY Tom, you do like it here?

MCSWEENEY What's not to like? It's the serenity of the place.

TOM I love this place, you know that.


EMILY Well, what are you talkin' about then?

TOM Ya wouldn't understand.

WALCHY Try us.

TOM Last night Coach told me I have a chance to make the School Boys team for Footy.


WALCHY Mate! Ya didn't tell us?

TOM There's no point talkin' about it. I can't go to training. It's a round trip of seven hours and Dad's got the farm. We couldn't afford the petrol.

(Characters freezes)

EMILY I wouldn't trade my life. I never want to leave here. People talk of their one true love. Maybe the country is mind. I know it's not for everyone but it's for me. Some people want more, I don't. I wouldn't trade this life.

(School bell ring. Characters unfreeze and walk towards the classroom. TOM and MCSWEENEY throw a football around)

TEACHER Come along boys, I've got some important news to tell you.

TOM Miss Kingston, who's died?

TEACHER Oh dear, I'm dreadfully sorry. But while we're on the subject, I suspect your all attending the funeral tomorrow.

MCSWEENEY Wouldn't miss it.

TEACHER Charles, don't be so disrespectful.

MCSWEENEY Yeh, sorry.

TEACHER And another thing, I've written to the education department to send a councilor.

MOLLY For what?

TEACHER To discuss what has been happening of late.

WALCHY Do we really need one, Miss Kingston?

JESS Won't it cost a bit?

TOM Yeh, the money could be better spent.

MOLLY On what Tom? Sports equipment?

JESS Yeh Tom.

TOM I just don't think we need one, that's all I'm sayin'.

MOLLY And you can say what we need and what we don't?


EMILY Why aren't any of you upset about what's happened?

(Characters become noiser)


EMILY This is a man we've known our entire lives. Our friend's father. I can't believe you're all so heartless.

(Characters become even noiser)

TEACHER Class (TEACHER throws books on the ground) Thank you.

WALCHY Was that the important news?


JESS So what is it?

WALCHY Is it good or bad?

TEACHER Bad, I guess.

EMILY This, this is true desert country. It shelters the skeletons and the ugly ghosts of many mens bright dreams. It is haunted by the spirit of heritage, of its desolation and the people who dauntlessly labour for its redemption. And somehow its baroness seems at place. Especially in our main streets.

(EMILY walks towards home, TOM runs after her. They sit at the table with DAD)

TOM I can't believe it.

EMILY Dad, Dad you'll never guess what we heard.

(EMILY and TOM do not pay any attention to what DAD is saying)

DAD I'm sure I will.

TOM Dad, the trains going.

DAD I know.

EMILY Can you believe it.

DAD I can.

TOM I can't. Did you say something Dad?

DAD Yep, sure did.

EMILY What? Can we do anything about it?

TOM What do ya mean? Chain ourselves to the tracks or something?

EMILY Your no kind of activist Tom.

DAD It wouldn't work. We already discussed it.


DAD The men at the Pub

EMILY So what'd you hear about the station?

DAD Well, Bob at the Pub says that the rail service thinks there's no need for it.

EMILY What do they know?

DAD A lot accordin' to them. Not much accordin' to me.

EMILY Couldn't they just shift the old train off the tracks. Then, they could use it again.

TOM I guess this way seems easier for them. But it'll ruin the town.

DAD Think positively, Tom

EMILY But we have to do something.

DAD I'm just not sure there's anything we can do about it.

TOM Well we can't just sit around and do nothing.

DAD I know, I know.

(DAD and TOM freeze)

EMILY It seems silly that in my father's time there was more to offer than now in the 21st century. I look down our main street to see a place that's dead. No post office, no bank, and now no train station. But it can't really be dead. As long as we still have a community. I don't think it can die. Or can it?

(EMILY stands off centre to the right. Tom puts his arm around her)

EMILY Core of my heart, my country!
Her pitiless blue sky,
When sick at heart around us

ALL We watch the cattle die -
But then the grey clouds gather,
And we can bless again
The drumming of an army
The steady soaking of rain.

(EMILY sits on the front of the stage and dangles her legs)
EMILY Today was Johnny's Funeral. The whole town was there and a few more. It wasn't exactly sad but rather uncomfortable. I know that sounds awful and I feel ashamed of thinking it. But I can't help it. Johnny's death is sad, as a death always it, but what is sadder is what happens to the family, the Petersons, what of them?

EMILY I don't understand Tom, why are they leaving?

TOM Who's leaving?

(TOM sits next to EMILY)

EMILY You didn't hear?

TOM Nup.

EMILY Molly told Jess and Jess told me.

TOM It's probably wrong then. Hang on, what are you talking about?

EMILY I thought I told you.

TOM You didn't. Now, who, according to the reliable Molly, is leavin'?

EMILY The Peterson's.

TOM You're not serious.


TOM That don't seem right. It ain't logical.

EMILY Yeh, logic, just like Johnny's death.

TOM Huh? Yeh, your right Em.

EMILY Tom, are you okay?

TOM I'm right, why?

EMILY Well the footy's on, and you're here, talking to me. I never knew you liked me more than football.

TOM I don't

EMILY Then why aren't you watching it?

TOM I think I'm worried.

EMILY About what?

TOM Everything.

EMILY That's a lot to be worried about.

TOM I should know.

EMILY Oh come on Tom, I command you to stop& thinking

TOM Yes sir!

EMILY Miss! Now onto more important matters.

TOM Like what?

EMILY Tonight? The dance!

TOM I forgot about that, is it really tonight?

EMILY Yes, and I don't know what to wear.

TOM What about a dress?

EMILY I was thinking about that.

TOM Now I'm really worried.

EMILY It's funny how a person's mind can play tricks on them. Sometimes when its quiet, like really peaceful, my mind goes frantic, a hundred thoughts a second. But when it really is frantic around here my mind is peaceful. It's like the dry sort of rustle, like the inarticulate murmur of parched tongues from the leaves just before a storm. And tonight, there's something brewing.

(EMILY and TOM exit. Country music is playing as all the Characters enter stage from different wings. Lots of talking, passing of food, dancing. Music fades and the Characters freeze)

DAD G'day Teach.

TEACHER Oh please, Mr Halem, call me Patricia.

DAD Well then, Patricia, I'm Tim. You enjoying yourself?

TEACHER It certainly is different.

DAD Ah, so this is ya first real bush dance.

TEACHER It's my first bush dance, whether it real or contrived.

DAD A city clicker I take it?

TEACHER Yes something like that.

DAD Shoulda known by the way ya speakin'.

TEACHER Mr Halem, I mean Tim, may I ask you a question.

DAD First things first, would ya like a drink?

TEACER No thank you. I'd really like to&.

DAD Ya won't mind me havin one then?

TEACHER Of course not, but my question?

DAD Good then.


DAD Ask away.

TEACHER Have many families been leaving the district in the last few years?

DAD I'd reakon so.

TEACHER Oh, oh I see.

DAD Watcha getting at?

TEACHER Well..Well& Well, I

DAD What's troublin' ya girl?

TEACHER I got a letter from the education department today, not only denying the need of a counselor but also telling me to help my students look into new schools.

DAD I don't quite get ya.

TEACHER Tim, their closing the school.

(DAD and TEACHER freeze. Lights brighten on the Characters. EMILY enters)

EMILY We all grow up so quickly here. I think its because we learn to make do with what we have. Living here, in this town, there's not many children. People leave and others go away to boarding school, but they come back never quite the same. A person tries to get along with everyone. But it's hard.

MCSWEENEY (wolf whistles) You look mighty good tonight Emily

EMILY Thanks, I guess,

MOLLY I've never seen you in a dress before. I never thought you were the type.

EMILY Neither did I, until today,

MCSWEENEY Well I'm glad you found one.

MOLLY Where's my compliments?

MCSWEENEY Oh Molly, Oh Molly. You light up my night.

TOM What happen's in the day then?



WALCHY Hey Em, a, I was kind of, maybe, you'd&

TOM Walchy? What's happenin' to you?

WALCHY I, um..

TOM Mate?

EMILY Do you want to dance?


(EMILY and WALCHY leave)

MCSWEENEY What's your sister doing to him?

TOM I don't know.

MCSWEENEY I don't like it.

TOM Not one bit.

MOLLY Hey, where's Jess?

MCSWEENEY Oh, she had to help mum.

MOLLY With what?

MCSWEENEY Bring the food from the car
MOLLY What? How'd you get out of it

MCSWEENEY I'm a bloke! Say, what about you me go an have a..

(JESS comes running in from left stage)

JESS You'll never believe what I just heard!

MOLLY Jess, you need to learn to stick up for yourself.

JESS What? Huh? I just heard the worst news I've ever heard in my entire life.

TOM I never knew you were so dramatic Jess.

JESS I'm not being dramatic!!!

MCSWEENEY Yep sure sis, whatever you say

JESS Listen to me!

TOM Okay, out with it.

JESS The school.

MCSWEENEY Yeh the place where we learn stuff

JESS The school it's..

TOM What about it?
JESS It's closing.

(Characters exit. Emily stands centre stage. Stage is black except for a spot on EMILY.)

EMILY A death. Although not simple and not seen has changed the lives of so many families. Not just its own, but others, not related, just people. And now going is the backbone to our town. Its school, a place which teaches its children, is going.

(TOM walks up behind EMILY)

TOM Em, Em, Em, (Lights brighten) Emily!


TOM Say something.


TOM You always say something.

EMILY There's nothing to say.

TOM Sure there is.

(DAD enters left stage)

DAD Oi, you two, shouldn't ya be getting to school.

EMILY Why bother?

TOM Dad, she's being weird.

EMILY I am not!

TOM Oh not at all.

(TOM runs at EMILY. Dad grabs him by the collar)

DAD Settle down, before I get the hose on ya.

(TOM struggles in DAD's grasp)

TOM I'm not the one who needs coolin' off.

EMILY I'm going to wait for the bus.

(EMILY storms off and sits front right stage. Legs dangle off the front of the stage)

TOM Dad, she's been acting strange all weekend.

DAD She feels things different from us Tom.

TOM And takes it all out on us. She never stops talking and yesterday the only thing she said to me was "pass the sauce"!

DAD She's just upset, that's all.

TOM But so am I.

DAD You handle your stuff better. It gets to her. You've got a thick skin like your ole' man. Now get out to that bus stop. I'm not driving you into town if you miss it.

(TOM walks towards the classroom scene)

EMILY This is the country, my country that has broken the backs and minds of many men. I can imagine my ancestors working their lives away in our paddocks. And for what? A town with no people. And I can't help asking myself if it was worth it, really worth it.

EMILY Core of my heart, my country!
Land of the rainbow gold
For flood,

(Characters enter from different sides, wings of the stage)


ALL And famine
She pays us back threefold
Over the thirsty paddocks
Watch after many days
The filmy veil of greenness
That thickens as we gaze.

MCSWEENEY Whats with her?

TOM She's upset.

MOLLY What'd you do Walchy?

WALCHY Me? Nothin'

JESS Maybe you should go talk to her.

TOM Hey I wouldn't.


TOM Just a piece of friendly advice.

(WALCHY walks over to EMILY who is seated on the front of the stage)

WALCHY Hey Emily, can I sit ere? (long pause) Em, you there?


WALCHY What's wrong? (long pause) Emily?

EMILY I just hate this.

(WALCHY puts his arm around EMILY and freezes. Characters unfreeze.)

LITTLE BOY So what are we going to do?

JESS Me and Charles talked about it all yesterday. And all we came up with was that we have to do something.

MOLLY Oh that's great.

JESS Well its probably more than what you did

MOLLY Jessica!

TOM Hey time out girls, back to your corners.

MCSWEENEY How can you joke around like this?

TOM I'm making up for all of you, it's not like it's the end of the world.

MOLLY It's the end of the world as we know it. We have to do something!

JESS Maybe its like the railway. Maybe we can't do anything about it.

MOLLY Maybe, Maybe not. We still have to try.

TOM I've never seen you so passionate about something.

MOLLY Well I'm making up for Emily.

LITTLE BOY Hey look there's Miss Kingston

(LITTLE BOY runs up to MISS KINGSTON but falls flat on his face)

TEACHER Are you all right.


TOM He's right.

TEACHER And the rest of you?

MCSWEENEY Could be better.

TOM Great Miss, just dandy.

TEACHER All right, it wasn't a terribly good question, was it?


(LITTLE BOY sits up and plays with the TEACHER'S skirt hem)

TEACHER How's everyone dealing with it? Emily. Emily? Where is she?

MOLLY She's in the yard with Pat.

JESS Now she's in the classroom with Pat.

TEACHER Good morning Emily, Patrick.

EMILY Is the morning so good?

WALCHY Miss Kingston, can we do anything about this?

TOM What I want to know is why this is happenin?

TEACHER Well the letter wasn't too clear. But it generally stated that the school is getting too small to maintain. The letter came the week before Johnny's death, I thought we could fight it. It did seem worthy enough to fight. But now with the Peterson boys leaving. I'm afraid there's not much hope.

EMILY We could do something, you just don't want to help us.

TEACHER That's not true Emily.

EMILY You've been here less than a year, the teacher before you stayed a month. It's not the number of students its that there is no one to teach us.

TEACHER No. I like it here. Believe me, please. All of you.

LITTLE BOY I believe you.

MCSWEENEY Are you sure we can't do anything, Miss Kingston?

TEACHER I'll look into it, but I can't promise anything, please remember that.

JESS Just try, will you.

(TEACHER exits. Characters freeze.)

EMILY The country has dust storms which scourge the countryside. It forces red dust into a person's clothing, eyes and nostrils, penetrating into each dwelling and polluting food and water. We have come to dread these snow storms that blacken the afternoon skies and fill it with howling dust-laden winds. In the town there is now the same sort of dread. But as fast as a storm passes it cannot compare with the speed of gossip in a small town.

(Characters assemble down stage)

MOLLY Did you all hear?

MCSWEENEY Hear about what?

MOLLY Miss Kingston and Robby Mahon have got the education department considering to keep the school open.

LITTLE BOY Whose Robby Mahon?

TOM He's the government man for our part.


EMILY I heard differently.

MOLLY Who from?

EMILY Miss Kingston.

TOM She said it was almost certain that the school would stay open.

WALCHY She certainly has been gone long enough.

TOM It's only been a week.

LITTLE BOY If I stayed home any longer. My mum said she'd go crackers!


MCSWEENEY You being annoying?


JESS Did she say anything else Em?

EMILY She said she'd be back today with the final answer from the department.

WALCHY I don't know what I would have done if the school were to close.

TOM We don't need to think about that now.

EMILY That's right.

LITTLE BOY This is the best news I ever heard in all my years.

MCSWEENEY Yeh in all your seven years.

LITTLE BOY Seven and a half.

MOLLY I can't wait to hear what she has to say.

TOM You won't have to wait long.


EMILY Miss Kingston!

(JESS and LITTLE BOY run and hug TEACHER)

TEACHER Hello children.

EMILY I'm so sorry for last week.

MOLLY What'd they say.

WALCHY Was it much of a fight?

LITTLE BOY Did you stay in a tall building?

EMILY Miss Kingston?

JESS Miss, what's wrong?

TOM Give it to us plain and simple.

TEACHER I..I.. I tried my hardest.

EMILY But you said.

TEACHER I know..


TEACHER They called us in later to tell us that they'd reconsidered.

WALCHY They can't.

TEACHER They can.


TEACHER I'm sorry.

(Characters freeze. Teacher exits)

EMILY Things happen. They make the stories in life. These little stories add up and make life. Whether they be tragic or happy a person cannot rewrite them. Because they will be ever indented into our minds. We can grow from this, although sometimes its harder rather
than easier.

WALCHY Mum and Dad decided that I'll stay with my Nana in Walpie and go to their high school. Did you know its got over 100 people in it

LITTLE BOY I'm going to their primary school. I have to catch the bus for a whole four hours every day.

MCSWEENEY Tom, are you goin' away to that school? The one with the real good footy team?

TOM Nah. Don't really wanna. I'll be catchin' the bus with this little runt.

WALCHY But you really wanted to go.

TOM Doesn't matter, does it? Schools are all the same.

MOLLY I'm going away to boarding school. I can't wait.

JESS Yeh, me neither. Do you know they actually have winter and summer uniforms. And these little hats you have to wear outside of the school!

WALCHY Sounds pretty strict.

MCSWEENEY Yeh the school I'm going to has hats as well.

MOLLY Are your schools close?

JESS Yeh about 15 minutes from each other or so the leaflet said

LITTLE BOY It must be real sunny there or something. To have all those hats.


WALCHY Em, so your coming to Walpie as well?

EMILY Not exactly.

MOLLY She's coming to the same school as me.


EMILY Yeh. We could afford the two of us going to boardin school.

LITTLE BOY I don't like this splittin' up business. Not one bit.

(Characters freeze. EMILY and TOM stand and walk to mid-left front stage)

EMILY I don't know how I'll survive living away from here. These people I've known since birth. These places so near in my heart. The smell, the touch, the noise or lack of. I'm a country girl, plain and through. I don't belong in a city.

EMILY I'm so sorry Tom.

TOM Look, it was Dad's decision.

EMILY But I wish you were goin not me.

TOM It don't matter so much for me.

EMILY I don't know if I'll like it.

TOM You better.

EMILY Hey Tom, look over there, By the Cylos.

TOM Yeh? Oh the railway guys have gone. Look, no tracks.

EMILY But Tom, they've left the train.

EMILY There are buildings throughout our small town. Inhabited by no one. Just structures from the past. From a time when the country was full of life, full of people and farmers were making money. Like the train, the town is there but they both lack momentum. They're just structures which house memories.

EMILY An opal hearted country,
A willful, lavish land -
All of you who have not loved her,
You will not understand

ALL Though earth holds many splendours
Wherever I may die
I know to what brown country
My homing thoughts will fly.

© 2000

Susannah Strauss is a Gold Coast year 11 student

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© 2000

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