Homecoming – A Furphy Award Shortlisted

The Furphy Anthology 2023 is made up of 16 short stories from writers. Read on for an extract from ‘Homecoming’ by Peter Arnold-Nott which was shortlisted in this year’s Furphy Literary Award.



by Peter Arnold-Nott


I was already late when the curtain of rain parted to reveal a queue of vehicles where no queue should be.


The brakes held, just. Before me, the little yellow car I had almost squashed sat resolute, fearless against the weather. Four-wheel drives filed away into the downpour.

In an instant, like a scene change in a movie, the rain thinned and cleared. Ahead of the immobilised convoy I had newly joined, a creek without a name tore across the road like it was running for its life.

Car doors opened down the line and heads appeared, feet stepping onto the steaming asphalt. Like witnesses at a train crash, we all drifted inevitably towards the river.

I heard the squawk before I saw them, a trio of cockatoos celebrating the passing of the deluge, the return of sunshine. Nobody parties like a flock of cockies.

My father hated cockatoos. Early mornings I would find him on the back step, shotgun across his arms, a wisp of smoke climbing from the cigarette hanging from his lip.

‘Block your ears,’ he’d warn, and blast away. All our oranges had pips of lead shot and cartridge wadding. Fran and I used to gather the birds, weightless bundles of snowy feathers, and toss them into the incinerator. We wanted to give them a funeral. But you can’t dig a hole in ground that’s hard as granite. You’d just get dingoes hanging round.


Shallow and still at the river’s near-edge where the concrete causeway slipped beneath the surface; a dozen paces, further along the churning brown wall tumbled past in a roar, riding up and over a guardrail submerged beneath the torrent.

‘It’s dropping.’ The man addressed me without looking at me. He stood with his feet in the water, rinsing gravel from his thongs. ‘Two hundred mil every half hour. Was over two metres not so long ago. Two metres twenty. Now look.’

He was directing my attention to the depth marker ahead. I’d never paid much heed to those before. Measuring sticks randomly located around rivers and boat ramps, high and dry whenever I’d noticed them. I revisited the numbers he’d just tossed at me and wished people would stick to centimetres, or feet even. I needn’t have worried. He repeated it all anyway. I had found myself in the company of the keeper of the information. Every situation has one. I noticed the others had drifted out of earshot. They had already been through this conversation. Possibly several times.


Fran will be pissed off. Again. On the phone yesterday she told me how he looked, barely making a dent in his sweaty old mattress.

The nurse had been around. She had left a full bottle of morphine for him to sip on. Just a mil or two at a time, she’d said. Just if he gets distressed.

‘Funny thing, though,’ Fran said on the phone, ‘the nurse said that, but then she left a twenty mil syringe.’

‘That’s weird,’ I said.

In the pause, our twin brains passed notes back and forth.



‘I’ll be there tomorrow.’

‘Sure, you will, Billy.’


Tropical warmth touched my bare scalp. My new friend caught me looking up, taking in the gathering patch of blue that had broken through the clouds.

‘Means nothing, that blue sky. Catchment’s well east of here. Only thing that counts, far as the creek’s concerned. What falls on the catchment.’

I followed his eyes to a row of low cloud hiding the tops of distant mountains that until this moment I had not known existed. More things I should have paid attention to. Donna would know their name, or how to find out.

‘Could be sunny as shit here and the river rising, or pissing it down while the level drops.’

This sounded plausible.

‘It’s paradoxical,’ my friend said, in a mysterious tone. Then grinned crookedly. ‘Nature keeping us guessing.’

I pulled out my phone.

‘No signal here, mate. Just have to deal with what’s in front of us.’

I told the man I needed to fetch my hat, a plan of which he approved. At a splash to my left I jumped back from the water, that briefest moment of heart-leap. Unlike the depth marker, I had noticed the crocodile sign.

Then a second child ran past and joined in with a headfirst slide, popping up beside her brother, the pair of them laughing like kids do in water everywhere. I nodded a smile to their father, standing just behind me, who nodded back. He was vaguely familiar. From the mission, was my guess.

I climbed the slope away from the flooded causeway. The family must have been here a while. Their station wagon was parked off the road under the cover of a lonely tree, tailgate open. A woman in a fold-out chair watched the kids in the creek below. An old man sat on a blanket spread across the ground. I gave a communal wave and they waved back.

Behind the wheel of a ute set further back in the line sat a young man with sandy curls and piercing blue eyes that set off his dark skin. Like the others, his sense of repose suggested he had been waiting for some time.

‘Still too high,’ I said. It seemed the right thing, the only thing, to say.

‘That’s ’em,’ he said back to me.

Next was a silver Hilux with a camping rig. A woman fifteen years my senior stood with her fists reaching round to the curve of her back, arching with a grimace put on for me. Stretching the old-fashioned way.

‘How’s it goin’?’ I called to her.

‘Good. Yourself? Surely not too much longer. We’d have gone back but James is supposed to start his apprenticeship tomorrow. My son.’

James was in the passenger seat staring forward, headphones visibly vibrating to the beat.

‘Never get much out of them at this age,’ she said with a laugh. ‘He’ll come good.’

Silhouettes of currawongs and woodswallows swooped against the falling sun. Butcherbirds on the road verge fought over a mangled snake.

The next strandee was stretched out on his swag reading a paperback, head resting on the wheel of his motorbike. Boots off, jacket drying over the seat of his bike. It was a Kawasaki. Identical to the one I escaped on when I was sixteen. Like James in the silver Hilux. No one back then would have told a passing stranger I’d come good. It wasn’t enough for me to get away. I shot out of there like a rocket, fuse flaring from the petrol-soaked haybale I’d set alight in the machinery shed that night.

I wouldn’t have done it. It was an argument with Dad like all the others. Until he mentioned Mum. Went and said he sees her in me every single day. That was a low blow. At least I saw it that way then. Fran was standing at the house gate, still in her school uniform as she watched me tear past. In the corner of my eye, I saw her glowing orange from the flames behind me. I couldn’t look at her straight-on.


Through the window of the little yellow car stuck a pair of bare feet, fresh nail polish flashing in the sunlight.

‘I’m not moving till it’s down. Right down,’ she said.

‘Sounds fair,’ I said.

‘Some of these blokes are getting antsy. Geez, you’d want it to be important. Life and death. River like that.’

‘Too right,’ I said. ‘Life and death.’

‘Yeah. Hubby can wait.’ She had a laugh that bubbled from her belly.


It was after I’d stopped worrying the cops would come knocking that the letters started, addressed to me in his shaky hand. They followed me when I moved out of the shelter, too. I never took them inside. Straight in the wheelie bin with barely a pause. They stopped coming at the place after that, a musty flat at Kangaroo Point. I know for sure they stopped because I used to check the mailbox every day. I still do. You never know when something important might come your way.


Silhouettes of currawongs and woodswallows swooped against the falling sun. Butcherbirds on the road verge fought over a mangled snake.

I thought of my own boys far away, Donna settling them in for the night. If I was making this trip for them, the way Donna said I should, daring me to find another excuse to stay home, to not go see him, well, it made more sense to be there with them now than out here, stranded by a flooded creek without a name.

I turned over the motor and felt the hot gush of air con. The tyres’ little squeal betrayed my U-turn, more aggressive than I’d intended. There was a beep from the dash. The warning light reminded me of the relief I had been feeling just before the downpour struck. Relief that the next fuel stop wasn’t far ahead. Not far at all, when there isn’t a metre of water over the road.

I looked back along the line of utes, jerry cans of spare diesel lashed to their trays. Not a petrol motor among them. I circled back and rejoined the queue.


Peter Arnold-Nott lives and works on Ma-mu lands, near Millaa Millaa on the Atherton Tablelands in Queensland. In his writing, his focus is on small towns, and the universal themes found there. He runs a small cattle farm and works as a country GP. ‘Homecoming’ is his first published story.

Find out more about the Furphy Award

Author: The Furphy Literary Awards


Book Format: Hardback

Publisher: Hardie Grant Media

ISBN: 9781761450662

RRP: $35.00

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