where the writers are
four1.jpg
Four Fires
Not available.

Bryce gives an overview of the book:

In the small town of Yankalillee, the Maloneys were at the very bottom of the pecking order. Had been for generations, with firm predictions that they'd stay there forever . . . 1955. Tommy, unlike other fathers, never talked about the war, not even on Anzac Day, but it broke his spirit, good and proper. So it was up to his big, booming wife Nancy to bring up the five children - Sarah, Bozo, Mole, Michael and Colleen - and to collect the town's rubbish in her old army-surplus Diamond-T. But circumstances change . . . and Nancy's determined to make them change. Sarah wants to be a doctor, Bozo's got the makings of a boxer, Michael has a passion for clothing and design, and Mole has the Maloney gift for fighting bushfires. In the tradition of 'The Power Of One', 'Four Fires' is a story of the triumph of the human spirit. From Bryce: The four fires in this story are...
Read full overview »

In the small town of Yankalillee, the Maloneys were at the very bottom of the pecking order. Had been for generations, with firm predictions that they'd stay there forever . . .

1955. Tommy, unlike other fathers, never talked about the war, not even on Anzac Day, but it broke his spirit, good and proper. So it was up to his big, booming wife Nancy to bring up the five children - Sarah, Bozo, Mole, Michael and Colleen - and to collect the town's rubbish in her old army-surplus Diamond-T.

But circumstances change . . . and Nancy's determined to make them change. Sarah wants to be a doctor, Bozo's got the makings of a boxer, Michael has a passion for clothing and design, and Mole has the Maloney gift for fighting bushfires.

In the tradition of 'The Power Of One', 'Four Fires' is a story of the triumph of the human spirit.

From Bryce:

The four fires in this story are passion, religion, warfare and fire itself.
While there are many more fires that drive the human spirit, love being perhaps the brightest flame of all, it is these four that have moulded us most as Australian people.
The four fires give us our sense of place and, for better or for worse, shape our national character.
Four Fires is unashamedly a story of the power of love and the triumph of the human spirit against the odds.
Not since writing The Power of One have I felt this close to a book.

Read an excerpt »

Sarah said we had our pride and even if we were the town garbos and Tommy was in gaol, so what? Nobody was going to say a Maloney wasn't a clean person. She'd have ironed our school clothes with the creases in our shorts sharp as a knife. Then when we came in from out the back, all dressed for school, there'd be these big enamel plates filled with steaming oatmeal porridge with a ring of melted brown sugar on the top, hot milk, thick wedges of white toast and plum jam as well as tin mugs of hot, sweet tea waiting for us on the kitchen table. After that we'd wash our mouths and clean our teeth at the sink, grab our jam sandwiches for school lunch, kiss and hug little Colleen and call 'Cheerio!' to Nancy out the back verandah.

'You four stick together, you hear? You tell me if any teacher gives you trouble!' She'd shout the same thing every morning from where she'd settled down in the old cane couch, and she'd already be halfway through a large bottle of milk stout. Her latest layette order, together with her embroidery stuff and the old Singer sewing machine, would be on the work table beside her.

We'd be out the front gate and off to school in a great tearing hurry, Sarah walking along with us, the three of us boys scrubbed properly to her satisfaction. She'd be neat as a pin in her box-pleated tunic and blazer with her prefect's stripe sewn on just below the school badge. If you looked at Sarah, who had this shining red hair, Nancy called it 'titian', and just a sprinkle of speckle freckles around her nose, it would make us proud that at least one Maloney had turned out okay.

Sarah, Mike and Bozo, together with Bozo's dogs, would peel off to the high school and I'd make my way alone to the primary school down the road a bit. I know I'm carrying on a bit about Bozo's dogs but you've got to understand they were truly amazing. They'd wait at the school gates minding their own business, never giving any trouble, until school came out. They did the same when Bozo and me were in primary school, going crazy with joy when they saw us at the end of the day, you'd think we'd been away on holidays. Which never happened of course. In fact, it was Bozo's dogs waiting at the school gates that was the real reason for him becoming a boxer.

It happened like this. We were in the playground and this kid, Brent Middleton, bigger than Bozo by a good head and surrounded by nine of his mates, comes up to us and says, 'Hey, Bozo, is it true your auntie escaped from the loony bin and went starkers down King Street?' He's got this half-smile on his face and the others with him are all grinning their gobs off.

Bozo's got no option, has he? So he smacks the bastard, only it's with his fist and the perpetrator drops like a stone. Well, he knocks him down anyway. Brent Middleton is one grade above Bozo and the school bully and the leader of a gang and, before you know it, there's four or five of them having a go at my brother.

I get stuck in, but at the time I'm too little to do much damage, but they've got Bozo down and they're kicking the daylights out of him. He manages somehow to get up and he clocks a couple of them in the mouth and eye. Old Bozo's going at them like a threshing machine but now there's nine of them and only the two of us. He's taking a hiding and I'm getting an unwelcome slap or two as well.

And that's when the cavalry arrive. Bitzers One to Five get stuck in and suddenly there's mayhem, kids scattering every which way, dogs yapping and snapping at ankles, jumping up and grabbing a hold of the hems of khaki shorts, biting at bums, everyone's yelling, teachers come running and there's blood and torn uniforms everywhere you look.

Bozo gets up off the deck, calls the dogs to heel and makes them sit at his feet. You can see they're not too happy neither, wanting to finish off what they've started, but they do as they're told. My brother's nose is bleeding and he's missing a tooth and has a split lip and a torn left ear. I'm okay, having just been pushed aside with a couple of stiff belts to the ear, and only copped a thick lip. Bozo's the worst wounded of all by far, but he still has the presence of mind to send the dogs home, knowing they're going to be in deep shit caninewise.

Because of the dog attack, the teachers all blame Bozo for what's happened and he's hauled off to the headmaster's office while the rest of us, Brent Middleton and his cohorts and me, are herded into the spare classroom next door.

Brent Middleton has been bit good and proper and has a black eye and a bloody nose where my brother's punched him first and second time around. Several of the others have something to show for their trouble, Bitzer bites, and a bloody nose or thick lip as well, compliments of Bozo's whirring fists.

Mr Flint, the headmaster, doesn't even listen to Bozo's side of the story before he phones Hamish Middleton, who has the jewellery shop in Fitzroy Street, 'Jonah Middleton & Sons, Est. 1872', and tells Mr Middleton what's happened and asks him to come over to the school.

Nancy later says that Flint's a real crawler and it's obvious he was more interested in damage control than whether or not Bozo was hurt. Anyway, the headmaster calls several of the other parents to come over. Then he phones Dr Wallis at his surgery and arranges for him to come to the school to give all those who've been Bitzer-bit a tetanus shot. Last of all, he phones Sergeant Donovan and Nancy. He turns to Bozo. 'Maloney, you'll probably be expelled for this, what you've done cannot be overlooked, I'll deal with you later. Now get next door with the others!'

The long and the short of it is that Nancy goes in to bat for me, Bozo and the dogs. But the various parents who've made it to the school want the dogs put down and Bozo severely punished. I guess I'm too little for them to bother about. Hamish Middleton assumes the leadership and mumbles out loud that he'll gladly do the job on the dogs himself and, looking directly at Nancy, he barks, 'That boy of yours is way out of line and should be sent to the boys' home!'

'What did you say, Mr Middleton?' Nancy says, real slow and soft, her blue eyes narrowed down to chips of ice. What Bozo's done to his son, Brent, ain't nothing to what's coming to him if he decides to repeat what he's just said. Nancy's dressed in one of her floral dresses that's big as a circus tent which she's made herself, all of them the exact same pattern and design - white daisies on a yellow background. With her great ham arms sticking out the sides larger than Hamish Middleton's thighs, the poor bastard is no match in the intimidation stakes and the look from Nancy sends the town jeweller and council member two paces backwards.

'Your lad has to be punished, Mrs Maloney,' Middleton senior repeats, though this time his voice is way downwind.

'He'll be punished if it's his fault, but that hasn't been clearly established yet,' Nancy says coldly. She's a dab hand at court procedure and adds, 'Would you mind if we waited until all the evidence has come in, Mr Middleton? Or is this going to be some sort of kangaroo court? Parents of Yankalillee Primary School versus Maloney?'

bryce-courtenay's picture

Note from the author coming soon...

About Bryce

I was born illegitimately in 1933 in South Africa and spent my early childhood years in a small town deep in the heart of the Lebombo Mountains. I wrote my first book, The Power of One, when I was 55.

I grew up among farm folk and the African people. At the age of...

Read full bio »