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  • Published: 2 June 2020
  • ISBN: 9781760893767
  • Imprint: Viking
  • Format: Trade Paperback
  • Pages: 336
  • RRP: $32.99

The Spill

Winner of the Penguin Literary Prize


After the spill


THE TWO GIRLS waited for their mother on the verandah of the Bruce Rock pub, which offered shade but little relief from the heat of the late afternoon. They swung their legs while they waited, slowly stirring the hot air and red dust, while the dogs around their feet lay panting, waiting patiently for their owners inside.

The girls’ mother, Tina, was also inside, matching the locals middy for middy. It was the medicine she needed after the shock of the accident and the morning that had led up to it. The locals, in turn, were amused to have a lady from the city sitting alongside them in the front bar, like she belonged there.

‘My bloody husband is driving from bloody Perth,’ she told them all. ‘Because of the bloody accident.’

One of the old guys raised his glass.

‘To the bloody accident!’ he shouted. ‘To the bloody accident!’ the rest of the front bar echoed, shoving their glasses in the air.

Tina laughed and raised her glass too, like the accident was something worth celebrating.

Occasionally, the publican would bring a couple of lemonades out to the girls, which ended up being more water than anything because the ice melted so quickly.

The third time, Tina came out with him to give them a packet of salt and vinegar Samboys.

Samantha jumped to her feet the moment she saw her mother. ‘Is Daddy coming?’ she asked, but Tina’s focus was on the publican.

‘Isn’t Bevan looking after us marvellously,’ she remarked, her consonants all soggy with the drink.

‘Evan,’ the publican corrected her.

‘Evan. What do you say, girls?’

The girls thanked the publican in unison, diverging only when one called him Bevan and the other called him Evan.

Evan/Bevan gave a cursory nod and disappeared inside. Tina went to follow him but Samantha grabbed her hand.

‘Mum?’ she asked. The question about her father was still hanging in the air.

‘Yes, Sammy,’ Tina replied, with a sigh, as she gently removed her hand from her daughter’s grasp. ‘Your father is on his way . . . for whatever that’s worth.’

As she pushed the doors to the front bar open, the crowd inside cheered at her return.

‘Do you think he’ll be here soon?’ Samantha asked Nicole.

‘Yes,’ Nicole replied. As the older sister, she often felt obliged to sound more certain than she felt.

‘Why do you think the car flipped like that?’

‘I think Mum was going too fast around the corner.’

‘Did you ask Mum to go fast?’

‘No!’ Nicole was outraged. ‘Why would I ask Mum to do that?’

‘Because you wanted to watch Young Talent Time.’

‘Don’t be silly,’ Nicole said, with a frown.

The two girls continued to swing their legs. On Samantha’s thigh, just above the knee, a bruise was already swelling.

‘It’s going to go a good colour,’ she remarked, pleased. ‘I’m going to show everyone at school on Monday.’

Nicole was too busy frowning. Samantha reached up to touch the bandage over her sister’s left eyebrow. ‘Does it hurt?’ she asked.

Nicole shrugged. ‘A bit.’

‘Your cut’s not as big as my bruise,’ Samantha concluded, before noticing something poking out of the pocket on the front of Nicole’s dress. ‘Hey, what’s that in your pocket?’

‘It’s nothing,’ Nicole said, in a way that suggested it was definitely something.

‘It’s a lollipop. No fair!’ Samantha cried. ‘How come you got a lollipop and I didn’t?’

‘Because I got stitches,’ Nicole told her.

After the crash, some strangers had stopped and wrapped the three of them in blankets and taken them to the Bruce Rock Memorial Hospital in the back of a station wagon. They’d had to wait for two hours in Emergency alongside the Saturday morning sports injuries but in the end, only Nicole had needed medical attention. The nurse had offered her the lollipop for her bravery and Nicole had accepted it, even though she was now in Year Seven and much too old for lollipops.

‘My bruise is bigger and I didn’t get anything,’ Samantha was whining. ‘Come on, we can share it. Lick for lick.’

‘That’s gross.’

Samantha tried to grab the lollipop out of her sister’s pocket. ‘Give it to me. You don’t like them anyway.’ Her voice was rising, like a kettle starting to boil.

Nicole sighed and handed her sister the sweet. It was always best to give in when her sister got like this.

Samantha put the lollipop in the pocket of her dress and immediately went back to swinging her legs, like nothing had happened.



It was the first question that Craig asked his daughters, before he had even said hello or asked whether they were okay.

Nicole tipped her head towards the inside of the pub. ‘She’s inside.’

‘Was she inside before?’


‘Before the accident.’

Even though only a few hours had passed, the accident already felt like a lifetime ago to both girls. And the time before the accident, the breakfast of cold toast at the motel, felt like it had happened to other people altogether, to two other girls and their mum.

Nicole scratched her head. ‘I saw her with a—’ she started to say, but then stopped herself. ‘No, she wasn’t drinking.’

‘Are you sure?’ Craig asked.

‘We were going too fast,’ Samantha said.

‘No, we weren’t,’ Nicole snapped.

‘You said we were.’

‘No, I didn’t.’

‘Girls . . .’ Craig warned. He reached out and gently touched Nicole’s face, just near the bandage, and he softened a little, like butter in the heat. ‘You okay, Nic?’

‘Yeah. I got six stitches. But it didn’t hurt. Not much.’

‘You were in the front?’

‘I was,’ Samantha piped up. ‘I made Nicole swap.’

‘No, you didn’t,’ Nicole said. ‘Mum made us swap.’

‘No, she didn’t.’

‘It doesn’t matter,’ Craig said, laying a hand on each girl’s shoulder. ‘It’s just good that Sammy was in the front. She’s too little to be sitting in the back where there’s no seatbelt.’

‘I got a bruise on my leg,’ Samantha continued, enjoying the spotlight. She lifted the hem of her dress to show the side of her leg. ‘We reckon it’s going to go a good colour. And I got a lollipop, too.’

Samantha didn’t look at Nicole when she said that.

‘You deserve it,’ Craig said. ‘Now, you girls just wait here while I go get your mother and then we’ll head back home.’

‘But what about Mum’s car?’ Nicole asked. ‘And all our stuff?’

‘That’s all sorted,’ Craig reassured her. ‘That was the easy part.’


INSIDE THE PUB, Craig’s entrance was met with a shriek from Tina.

‘It’s my bloody husband from bloody Perth!’

‘To the bloody husband from bloody Perth!’ The crowd roared and lifted their glasses in the air.

Craig ignored the raucous greeting and marched over to his wife. ‘Let’s go.’

‘Piss off, I’m having a drink,’ Tina said. One of her bra straps had slipped down her arm and was hanging limply, like a flag at half-mast.

Craig grabbed her by the elbow and firmly guided her out of the pub, amidst the cheering and jeering of the crowd in the front bar.

‘You’re hurting me,’ Tina was shouting as they stepped out onto the verandah, even though she was laughing.

‘You’re hurting Mum!’ Nicole pulled at her father’s sleeve, while Samantha began to cry and all the dogs on the porch started barking.

Tina kept laughing, as Craig’s grip tightened on her elbow. ‘Ladies and gentlemen! The circus is leaving town!’


IT WASN’T UNTIL they were all seated in Craig’s parked car that anyone realised Tina was still holding her middy of Swan Lager. She held it to her lips and started to drink it in huge gulps.

The girls gasped. They weren’t allowed to drink or eat in Craig’s Mazda RX7.

‘Jesus, Tina,’ Craig said. ‘Haven’t you had enough?’

‘No. Never.’

‘Well, I have.’

‘Actually, I don’t think you have, Craig.’ Tina turned to him and looked him squarely in the eye.

Craig paused for the briefest of moments and then reached over to wrestle the glass off his wife, spilling its remaining contents all over her and his precious upholstery in the process.

‘No more,’ he said, as he threw the now-empty glass out the car window, where it smashed into pieces on the hot bitumen.

‘More,’ Tina said, now sullen.

Craig ignored her and revved the engine loudly, like a metal lion warning its prey. Tina slumped down in her seat.

After a few more roars, the car took off, with only Samantha’s sniffling in the back seat and the stench of spilt beer to score the long, red road back to Perth.

The Spill Imbi Neeme

Winner of the 2019 Penguin Literary Prize

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