- Published: 1 March 2022
- ISBN: 9781761046704
- Imprint: Puffin
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 256
- RRP: $16.99
The PM's Daughter
This is a story about me: Cat Parkes Pérez. My mum just moved me and my great-aunty Jacinta from Perth to Canberra, our national capital and the ‘political beating heart of Australia’. Or so they say on the news. I left behind my friends, my school, my home – even my favourite taco place – to come here.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my mum. Everybody loves her. Well, maybe not everyone. There’s a group of people here – teenagers like me – called Action Uprising. I can see them outside my window right now, standing in the street, waving their signs and chanting their slogans. They’re protesting against the government’s climate policy, which totally stinks, by the way.
I should be out there with them. Instead, I’m sitting in a shiny government car, part of a convoy of other shiny government cars on their way to Parliament House. We pull up at a fancy set of gates, protected by a uniformed police officer. Moments later, the gates are open and we have arrived at The Lodge, the official residence of the Prime Minister of Australia.
And my new home. That’s because the Prime Minister just happens to be my mum.
‘Welcome!’ calls a guy in a grey suit as he bounds down the front steps to greet us.
‘Tim,’ Mum says as a camera flash goes off in my face. ‘You’ve met Catalina –’
‘Cat,’ I correct her. It’s a habit.
Mum then turns to my great-aunty, whom we call Tia. ‘You’ve met my aunt Jacinta, haven’t you? And Tia, you remember Tim Yeung? The Deputy PM?’
‘Of course!’ Tia says. ‘Hola, Tim.’
‘Oh!’ says Tim, his face flushing as Tia plants a kiss on his cheek. ‘I had to make sure I was here to welcome you to The Lodge in person.’
Mum smiles her special politician’s smile. ‘Let’s go inside, shall we?’
Sure, I think. So far this place, with its elegant balconies, multiple storeys and lush green lawns fed by water-wasting sprinklers, is nothing like my old home back in Perth. So, I can’t wait to check out the inside, to see how well it matches up. And also maybe discover which century the designer and architect were born in.
An older guy, dressed up like he’s just arrived from a casting call for the next Downton Abbey movie, steps forward to introduce himself as soon as we walk through the stained-glass panelled door.
‘Henry Stalwell,’ he announces importantly. ‘Head of Staff and Family Liaison Officer to every prime minister since Paul Keating.’
Right, I think, as another flash goes off in my face. When will they stop? Surely I’m not that photogenic.
The cameras keep flashing as Henry introduces me to a dizzying array of smiling staff. There’s Beatrice, who will need a list of my food preferences and any allergies I might have. And Matthias, who will look after my laundry requirements. And also Malina, who will help me ‘establish’ a work space for my study needs.
Just as I’m about to go into total meltdown, Henry offers to take me on a tour of The Lodge so I can find out more about ‘the history of this iconic Australian building’. Fortunately, I’m saved by Mum suggesting we go upstairs to check out my room. It can’t be any worse than down here. Or can it?
We walk around my bedroom, checking out the heavy, old-fashioned furniture, wooden floors and lacy curtains.
‘I asked for the most modern furniture they had,’ Mum tells me as I dump my travel bag on a huge bed.
‘Who did you ask?’ I say, examining the floral bedspread with its neat row of cushions. ‘The Queen of England?’
‘Looks like the staff have already moved in most of your things,’ Mum says, running her hand over a row of dresses and jackets hanging neatly in the wardrobe. ‘What you are going to wear for the welcome party tomorrow?’
‘This,’ I say, pointing to the vintage jacket and top I picked up in an op shop back in Perth.
Mum shakes her head. ‘It’s an official event, Cata.’
‘Well, fortunately for me, I have a mum who taught me it’s what’s on the inside that counts,’ I say. ‘Not appearances.’
Mum gives me one of her mum looks. ‘The sad fact is, I do have to consider appearances whether I like it or not,’ she tells me. ‘I’m a woman in politics, Cata. Remember?’
I remember. I stare in horror as she pulls a pale yellow suit from the wardrobe, then waggles it in my direction.
‘Oh, come on, you looked great in it at Karen’s wedding,’ Mum pleads.
‘It makes me look like a lemon slice.’
‘Don’t be silly,’ Mum says, then grins. ‘Much more like a banana split.’
I push down a smile. Mum can usually get around me with a silly joke. But not this time.
‘I’m so happy you’re here, Cata,’ Mum tells me, and she’s not joking now. She pulls me into a hug. ‘No more video calls. No more flying between Canberra and Perth every five minutes. We’re going to make this a real home here, Cat. Together.’
‘You keep saying that like Tia and I didn’t already have a real home,’ I mutter, moving away. ‘But we did, remember? And it had normal rooms and no photographers in my face. And . . . pets.’ There. I’ve said it.
‘Is this about the frog?’ Mum says.
I hold her gaze. ‘It’s not about Fernando.’
‘I know how much you wanted to bring him,’ Mum continues, ‘but biosecurity laws exist for a reason.’
Her phone pings, and she breaks off to check her messages. ‘I’ve got some meetings, but we’ll talk about this later, okay?’
Quick, I think, get the last word in.
‘Whatever,’ I say, turning away. I wait for Mum to leave the room, then I pull out a framed photo from my bag and place it carefully on my dresser.
Memories flood back as I gently trace my finger across the image of my father and a much littler me, surrounded by protesters at a rally.
Dad’s wearing his favourite POWER TO THE PEOPLE T-shirt.
Next to come out are posters of my favourite bands and musicians, which I Blu-Tack to the wall. Probably illegal, but sometimes a girl has to take risks.
There is just one thing left to organise to make my room feel more like home.
‘Hey, little fella,’ I whisper to the tiny frog, nestled between rocks and leaves in a plastic habitat tank. ‘Looks like we broke biosecurity laws.’
I look around the room, searching for a safe place to hide the tank. I finally settle on a shelf in the wardrobe, then stack a few books in front of it just to be sure.
‘Guess we’re outlaws now,’ I tell Fernando. Then I quietly close the wardrobe door, leaving a small gap to let in some air.
‘No climate compromise! No climate compromise!’
Distant chants from protesters waft in through my window, pulling me out of a deep sleep. I grab my phone and scroll through my notifications. They’re full of videos of my friends splashing around in the sun at our favourite beach. How dare they have fun without me?
Tia is already at the dining table when I arrive downstairs for breakfast. ‘Everything okay, sobrina?’ she asks me.
I manage a smile, then stick my fork into my omelette. There’s a Prime Minister’s seal on the silver handle.
‘Good thing everything has Mum’s seal on it,’ I sigh. ‘You know, in case she ever loses a fork.’
‘This is a strange house, Catita,’ Tia agrees, just as Mum strides into the room with an armful of folders. ‘But we’ll make it a home. You’ll see.’
‘Buenos días, my family!’ Mum cries, grabbing a pastry from the table. ‘How did we sleep?’
‘Fine,’ I say. ‘I got woken up by the Action Uprising protesters. I think I’ll go and join them after breakfast. A hundred thousand followers can’t be wrong, right?’
‘You can’t, Cata,’ Mum tells me, with another of her mum looks. ‘Not this time.’
I roll my eyes. ‘It was a joke, Mum. Or aren’t those allowed in this house either?’
‘Mmm,’ Mum says, chewing on her pastry, ‘we’re allowed to make jokes. They just have to be funny, like mine.’ She checks her watch. ‘I have to run,’ she adds, leaning down to kiss Tia. ‘Chao, Tia.’
Then it’s my turn for a goodbye kiss. ‘You have a great first day, Cata. Someone will drive you, okay?’
I stare at her. No way am I contributing to carbon overload by being driven to school in a fossil-fuel-powered car. I tell Mum I’ll ride my bike instead.
Mum checks her watch again. ‘You’d better talk to Henry about that.’
Henry magically appears (listening at the door, maybe?) right then to tell me I’ll need clearance from the Federal Police to ride my bike to school. But that’s not part of my plan for the day. As soon as breakfast is over I grab my bike and happily head off down the driveway, the wind in my hair –
Until I’m stopped by a police officer at the gate, and ordered to walk my bike back to The Lodge. Maybe next time.
There’s nothing like being the new girl at school. As I walk through the gates of Dampier Crescent High, it feels like everyone’s eyes are on me, checking me out.
‘OMG. OMG! You’re Catalina Parkes Pérez!’
I spin round to see a girl who looks the same age as me, nearly peeing herself with excitement. Her overly formal clothes and high ponytail set her apart from the rest of the kids I’ve seen so far this morning.
‘Uh, it’s just Cat,’ I mumble.
‘I’m Sadie,’ twitters the girl, and then her next words tumble over each other. ‘I love your mum. Sorry, I’m a tragic politics stan. You’d think I’d get over it at a school full of politicians’ kids, but nope. Probably because my parents aren’t in politics.’
I don’t get a chance to ask what her parents are in, because she’s already telling me: catering. They own a company called Cafe Cravings, which, naturally, is the best in town. I’m taking all this in when she cuts back to letting me know how excited she is to meet me.
My phone buzzes just as Sadie reminds me how amazing she thinks my mum is. I check the display. It’s her.
‘OMG!’ gasps Sadie, peak fangirling. ‘She’s calling right now, isn’t she! So awesome.’ Then she adds apologetically, ‘Sorry, I talk a lot when I’m nervous. And also when I’m not nervous.’
I take a deep breath. Sadie is so close to me by now she’s backed me into a bush. And other kids are staring at us. Sadie keeps going, and going, until –
‘Stop!’ I say, really loudly, then barge past her.
I turn back, and Sadie and I both stare at the pile of her books I’ve knocked to the ground. Should I help her pick them up? Or just keep walking, away from the sea of eyes watching my every move?
Keep on walking, I decide, even though I feel bad about it, darting around the corner to a small courtyard, where I can finally be alone.
Except that I’m not.
‘First day?’ I look up to see a guy with a cheeky grin and cute mini-dreads flopping down over his forehead. He’s leaning against a brick wall, holding a novel. ‘You got that “new kid” panic in your eyes.’
Could today get any worse?
‘Yeah, I’m kind of having a minor-level freak-out. I was just really mean to this girl who totally didn’t deserve it.’
‘It happens. My first day, I threw my tuna salad at a kid and ran back here. Haven’t shown my face since.’
This guy is making me feel better already. ‘Seems fair for you to live your life in exile, then.’
‘I’m Miro,’ Miro says, pronouncing his name like it rhymes with hero. American, then, I figure. ‘Harrison.’
‘I’m Cat,’ I reply. ‘Parkes Pérez.’
‘Right,’ Miro says, his wide smile vanishing. ‘I’ll be at your mom’s welcome party tonight.’
‘Really?’ I blurt, wondering what I’ve said wrong. We’d been getting along so well. ‘Are your parents in politics?’
Miro’s smile has definitely gone for good. ‘My dad’s a diplomat.’
‘That must be cool,’ I say.
‘Why? What’s cool about it?’
‘I mean, you get to travel around the world . . . meet interesting people.’
Miro’s mouth twists. ‘Sure. Going from one corrupt country to another, meeting dictators’ sons and prime ministers’ daughters. Same bunch of crooked elites.’
‘Dude, you don’t know me,’ I say, firing up. ‘If there’s a protest, I’m there.’
‘That’s cool. But trust me, power always corrupts.’
I shake my head. ‘Not me.’
‘Says the girl who was just mean to someone for no reason,’ says Miro. He opens his book, signalling the end of our conversation. ‘Enjoy your first day, Cat Parkes Pérez. And don’t worry – a school like this? It’s made for people like you.’
The first thing I notice when I arrive home from school is that someone has framed my music posters. And Fernando is missing from my wardrobe.
‘Where is he?’ I yell, as Henry strolls past my door, his bearing as stiff as his freshly starched waistcoat and shirt.
Henry stops. ‘Ah. Yes. Matthias found your amphibian this morning when he was cleaning your room. Your mother had him sent back to Western Australia.’ He leans forward and speaks quietly, as though sharing a secret. ‘That species simply doesn’t belong here.’
‘Well, neither do I,’ I snap. ‘Maybe you should get someone to send me back too.’
Henry smiles formally, then mumbles something about needing to book a new caterer for our big event. It seems the chef’s shingles have flared up again.
A new caterer? Hmm.
‘Henry!’ I call after him.
Henry turns around.
‘You should call Cafe Cravings,’ I suggest, trying to sound helpful. ‘I’ve heard they’re the best in town.’
Henry sniffs. ‘Thank you,’ he mutters. He’s halfway down the stairs when he turns back to tell me my yellow suit is pressed and ready for the party. Great.
I stomp into the morning room and flick through the TV channels. Mum’s face suddenly appears on the screen. Looks like she’s giving a press conference.
‘Our Enviro Bill will change Australia’s future,’ she’s saying, waving her hands around to help make her point, ‘by dis-incentivising carbon pollution and investing in the Green economy. But that only works with major industry groups at the table.’
I can’t even turn on the TV without Mum telling me what to do.
The news report cuts to a journalist. ‘Only days into the job, Isabel Pérez is already under fire, with claims she’s striking backroom deals.’
Another cut, this time to the protesters I saw out on the street yesterday. An image of a kid with closely cropped hair, blue lipstick and multiple piercings in each ear fills the screen. ‘Murphy Barnes: Action Uprising Spokesperson’, reads the caption. I turn up the volume as they begin to speak, hanging on their every word.
‘We need decisive climate action now,’ Murphy demands, brown eyes flashing as they make their point, ‘and we will not get there by compromising to please big polluters. Action Uprising will fight – peacefully and lawfully – until Isabel Pérez hears and values our voices.’
I lean forward to get a better look at the protesters milling about on the screen, chanting, ‘No climate compromise! No climate compromise!’
‘Sing it, Murphy!’ I shout at the screen, just as Tia pops her head around the door.
‘Catita, you need to get changed for the welcome party,’ she reminds me.
I nod, one eye still on the TV screen. Then I grin as a wicked idea takes hold in my brain.
Mum stares at my outfit as I skip down the stairs. ‘Cata, what have you done?’
I hold out my arms, showing off the top half of my yellow suit, which I’ve ripped and shredded to pieces then teamed with a plain white T-shirt and protest jewellery. ‘Stopped a fashion crime from being committed,’ I tell her.
‘You’ve destroyed that suit,’ Mum whispers, bewildered.
‘Well, sorry that it doesn’t match the antiques or the crooked elites, Mum, but this is me. And you’ve just been too busy making your little backroom deals to hear or value my voice.’
Mum shakes her head. ‘Why do I feel like Action Uprising just walked in?’
‘Maybe they did,’ I say, standing my ground.
‘Look, is this about the frog? Because I’m sorry, I tried calling you.’
‘Fernando was part of my home,’ I remind her. ‘I remember home, even if you don’t.’
Mum sighs. ‘I remember our home, Cata.’
‘Really? Because it seems like you’ve happily forgotten it. Along with all of our friends.’ I take a deep breath, then go in for the kill. ‘And Dad.’
Mum’s eyes flash. She waves off her aide, Grace, who has come in to let Mum know she’s needed outside. Then Mum grabs her brown suit jacket from its hook and hands it to me. ‘Right now, this is our home. And if you’re not working with me, you’re working against me.’ She pauses, then speaks her next words slowly and firmly. ‘So, you will put this on, mix pleasantly with our guests, and laugh politely at all the best lines in my speech.’
‘Fancy fried thing?’
I spin around to see Sadie from school, dressed in a fancy catering uniform, holding a tray of nibbly things. ‘I’m good, thanks,’ I tell her, pulling the sleeves of Mum’s daggy brown jacket down over my wrists.
‘Thanks for setting my parents up with this gig,’ Sadie whispers. ‘I can’t believe I’m at the actual Lodge. This is so cool of you.’
‘Least I could do,’ I say, suddenly aware that Miro, wearing a suit jacket that is neither daggy nor brown, is only a few metres away, chatting to guests. We catch each other’s eye briefly, then quickly look away. ‘Sorry about today.’
Sadie nods uncomfortably, then looks across to where Tia is talking to one of the guests. Tia sends me an encouraging wink. ‘Is that your grandma?’ Sadie asks.
‘No, that’s my great-aunty,’ I explain, ‘from the Chilean side of our family. She moved in with us a couple of years ago, after my dad died.’
‘Oh, I’m so sorr–’
But Sadie doesn’t get to finish her sentence.
‘It’s Catalina Parkes Pérez, right?’
‘Uh, just Cat,’ I mumble to the girl who has suddenly joined us, all kitted out in a pale blue trouser suit and strings of beads. And I thought Mum’s jacket was bad.
‘Georgina Pryce,’ she tells me. ‘I think I spotted you today at school, but we didn’t get a chance to talk.’
‘I was kind of lying low,’ I confess.
Georgina smiles regally. ‘Well, I’m our current Year Leader, so if you ever need anything, come straight to me. Love your outfit, by the way,’ she adds, grabbing a guy’s arm as he wanders past. ‘Ollie, have you met Catalina Parkes Pérez?’
‘Just Cat,’ I say, wondering why he has one arm in a sling. Awesome hair, though.
‘Hey, “just Cat”,’ Ollie says, waving at a man further along the patio. I recognise him straightaway. It’s Tim Yeung, the overly cheery Deputy PM who welcomed us to The Lodge yesterday. ‘My dad’s been bugging me to introduce myself to you.’
‘Ollie’s the captain of the school basketball team,’ Georgina informs me. ‘Hey, Ollie, when do you get back on the court?’
‘Uh, soon,’ Ollie says, then turns to me. ‘I can’t play because of a shoulder injury,’ he explains. ‘It’s only temporary, though.’
I grin. ‘I can’t play because I suck at basketball. And that’s permanent.’
Ollie grins, and then Georgina explodes – a little too loudly – into laughter. ‘You know what?’ she says. ‘Even though my dad is the opposition leader and everyone expects us to hate each other, we’re totally going to be besties.’
Er, maybe not, I think, as Mum steps up to the microphone. She has barely begun her speech when I feel a gentle tap on my arm.
I turn to see Ollie, beckoning me to follow him.
Should I go? I wonder, as Ollie quietly disappears around the side of The Lodge. Mum will kill me if she finds out I haven’t heard her speech. Then again, life is short, and Ollie’s kind of cute. Ten seconds later, I’m following him.
‘Okay, you have to tell me what we’re doing,’ I say to Ollie as he leads me in and out of trees.
‘I was friends with the last kids who lived here,’ he explains as we reach the high fence that borders the compound. ‘They wanted me to show you something. But first I need to know if you’re cool.’
Ollie looks doubtful.
‘I’m cool!’ I insist. ‘Show me the thing!’
Ollie holds up his good arm. ‘Okay! Okay!’
He moves some bushes and vines out of the way, revealing a homemade ladder.
‘These steps go right up to –’ he’s saying, but I’m already at the top before he finishes his sentence. There’s a little viewing platform up here, with a wooden roof and railings. You can see all the way across the lake to Parliament House, glittering in the afternoon sun.
‘You can’t tell anyone this is here,’ Ollie warns, once he’s standing beside me. ‘Not your mum, and definitely not my dad.’
‘What about your girlfriend?’
Ollie snorts. ‘Georgina? She’s not my girlfriend.’
‘Oh?’ I say, remembering the way she laughed too loudly at my bad joke. ‘Does she know that?’
‘I’m serious,’ Ollie says, and he seems determined to ignore my question. ‘No-one can know.’
‘Okay! All right! No-one will know,’ I assure him, just as the trapdoor at the top of the ladder crashes open, and Sadie’s head appears.
‘What are you doing up here?’ she asks us, pulling herself up onto the platform.
‘How did you –?’ Ollie blurts, shocked.
‘I saw you guys sneaking away,’ she explains. ‘Wow – this view’s amazing!’
Ollie shakes his head. ‘This is supposed to be a secret.’
‘Don’t worry, we can trust Sadie,’ I tell him. ‘She’s cool.’
Sadie laughs. ‘I’m one hundred per cent definitely not cool. But I can totally keep a secret.’ Then she goes on and on – and on – about how good she is at keeping secrets because she doesn’t talk. Ever.
‘We’re doomed,’ Ollie groans.
‘What’s he doing?’ I ask Ollie as I spot someone down below, sneaking through the grounds.
‘It’s that Miro guy,’ Ollie says. ‘American diplobrat.’
‘Maybe we should get back,’ Sadie says, clearly worried about how much food she should be serving right now.
She’s right. Mum will be finishing her speech soon. But I need a moment to myself up here, before we do. ‘Just one sec?’ I say.
Ollie and Sadie nod. I close my eyes, drinking in the smell of giant gums and the peaceful sound of twittering birds. ‘Okay,’ I say finally. ‘Now we can go.’
We climb back down the wooden ladder and head for the patio, blending in quickly with the crowd. Mum is still giving her speech, making the crowd laugh with her tales of the ups and downs of politics.
‘Where have you been?’ someone whispers in my ear, making me jump. Tia. ‘And why didn’t you invite me?’ she adds cheekily. I love her so much.
Mum is finally winding up her speech, reminding the audience that she’s very aware that the man she’s replacing did wrong by the Australian people. And that she stands for everyone – from youth leaders to big industry. But instead of politely applauding her, people are staring at the sky above her. I look up, and see a huge black bird of prey, its wings spread wide, flying directly towards Mum.
Tia grabs my arm. ‘Where did that come from?’
‘From over the fence,’ Ollie says, then points skywards. ‘Look, it’s attached to a drone!’
He’s right. Mum jumps back as she finally sees the bird, the heel of her shoe catching in the grass.
Two police officers rush to protect her. ‘Stay back!’ they call to the crowd. Then they leap into the air, swatting at the bird with their hands, trying to bring it down.
I’m distracted for a second by Miro sneaking back to the party from the shrubbery, but as
I turn back to Mum I see the bird hover directly above her, releasing a stream of fake bird poo.
‘Aaaarghhh!’ Mum screams as it covers her hair, then drips down her face.
‘No climate compromise!’ squawks a tinny electronic voice, over and over. People rush over to help, including Henry, who swipes at the bird with a pool scoop before finally netting it.
Ollie nudges my arm. Miro looks nervous – and suspicious. I glare at him, then run over to be with Mum.
I’m cuddled up on the couch in Mum’s study when she walks in, drying her hair with a towel. ‘What are you doing in here?’ she asks me.
‘Comfiest couch in the house,’ I say, checking my phone. The poo memes haven’t stopped since Mum gave her speech today.
‘Room for one more?’
I pull up my legs so Mum can slide in beside me. Her eyes search my face. ‘Are you okay?’
‘Yeah. Are you?’
‘Did you get that stuff out of your hair?’
‘Yeah. It could have been something a lot worse than fake poo. This is a high-security area. Whoever was controlling that thing put everyone present at risk.’
I nod. She’s right.
‘The police are looking to charge Action Uprising,’ Mum goes on.
I sit up, alarmed. ‘What? Why?’
‘Because of what the bird was saying,’ Mum explains. ‘“No climate compromise.” That’s their whole message. They’ve been outside Parliament and The Lodge chanting that all week.’
I shake my head. ‘No, it can’t be them. Doing stuff “peacefully and lawfully” is their whole thing.’
‘Seems like that’s changed. They’re going to be in some serious trouble.’
No way, I think. It can’t be them. Not after what I’ve seen tonight.
‘It wasn’t them,’ I say, my voice firm.
Mum looks at me, confused. ‘Cata? Do you know something about this?’
Should I tell her what I know about Miro? No, it’s too risky. If I did that I’d have to fess up about the existence of the secret spot on the fence.
And I still don’t really know what I know. I shake my head.
‘In any case, it’s out of our hands,’ Mum tells me, resting her head on the back of the couch. ‘The police will handle it.’
She pats her lap, opening her arms wide for a cuddle, but I stay where I am.
‘Oh, come on,’ Mum says, rolling her eyes. ‘I got pooed on by a giant bird of prey this afternoon, remember?’
Sighing, I wriggle along the sofa till I’m lying down with my head in her lap. Whoever did this is going down, I vow to myself. No-one embarrasses my mum but me.
The field is full of flowers. None of those words is a lie, but they’re not true either, because they’re too small, too inadequate, too little to describe the field, its fullness, the flowers.
‘Tie them up,’ Baron Lassigny ordered. ‘They’re under arrest.’
‘The full moon rose over us,’ Layla sang, while she carefully joined two pieces of metal together in the broiling, cramped welding bay.