NRB’s Great Opening Lines of Australian Literature Quiz
Our first quiz for 2016: 20 questions to get your heads into gear for a readerly new year and test how well you know your Oz lit, past and present. (Helpful hint: the book images are purely decorative and have nothing whatsoever to do with the quiz.)
Who wrote these opening lines and what is the title of the work?
1 Unemployed at last!
2 In the old brown house on the corner, a mile from the middle of the city, we ate bacon for breakfast every morning of our lives. There were never enough chairs for us all to sit up at the meal table; one or two of us always sat on the floor or on the kitchen step, plate on knee. It never occurred to us to teach the children to eat with a knife and fork. It was hunger and all sheer function: the noise, and clashing of plates, and people chewing with their mouths open, and talking, and laughing. Oh, I was happy then. At night our back yard smelt like the country.
3 On December 8th, 1915, Meggie Cleary had her fourth birthday. After the breakfast dishes were put away her mother silently thrust a brown paper parcel into her arms and ordered her outside. So Meggie squatted down behind the gorse bush next to the front gate and tugged impatiently. Her fingers were clumsy, the wrapping heavy; it smelled faintly of the Wahine general store, which told her that whatever lay inside the parcel had miraculously been bought, not homemade or donated.
4 The fiddle at the Pacific Pastoral meat-packing works was neither particularly original nor fabulously lucrative. But it was a nice little earner for all concerned while it lasted, and probably harmless enough. All that changed when Herb Gardiner reported finding a body in Number 3 chiller.
5 Stephen stood naked in his living room. He shuffled through the mail on the table, laying this sorting of envelopes and catalogues over the sickly, complicated guilt that had greeted him on waking. It was too hot already, even at seven o’clock, even here in the dark house.
6 The Alexander, with its cargo of convicts, had bucked over the face of the ocean for the better part of a year. Now it had fetched up at the end of the earth. There was no lock on the door of the hut where William Thornhill, transported for the term of his natural life in the Year of Our Lord eighteen hundred and six, was passing his first night in His Majesty’s penal colony of New South Wales. There was hardly a door, barely a wall: only a flap of bark, a screen of sticks and mud. There was no need of lock, of door, of wall: this was a prison whose bars were ten thousand miles of water.
7 His eyes still shut, a dream dissolving and already impossible to recall, Hector’s hand sluggishly reached across the bed. Good. Aish was up. He let out a victorious fart, burying his face deep into the pillow to escape the clammy methane stink. I don’t want to sleep in a boys’ locker room, Aisha would always complain on the rare, inadvertent moments when he forgot himself in front of her.
8 When I first saw the child I cannot say. I see myself – I might be three or four years old – playing under the olives at the edge of our farm, just within call of the goatherd, and I am talking to the child, whether for the first time or not I cannot tell at this distance. The goatherd is dozing against an olive bole, his head rolled back to show the dark line of his jaw and the sinews of his scraggy neck, the black mouth gaping. Bees shift amongst the herbs. The air glitters. It must be late summer. There are windblown poppies in the grass. A black he-goat is up on his hind legs reaching for vineshoots.
9 There is a kind of eucalypt that grows all round the district where I grew up, not a blue gum yet its leaves give off a shimmering haze of blue, and it is that blueness that stays in my mind when I remember the day my brother Edward came home from Pentridge.
10 On the train from Paris to Geneva, Edith Campbell Berry, at twenty-six, having heard the gong, made her way to the first sitting and her first lunch in a railway dining car.
11 I used to love this season. The wood stacked by the door, the tang of its sap still speaking of forest. The hay made, all golden in the low afternoon light. The rumble of the apples tumbling into the cellar bins. Smells and sights and sounds that said this year it would be all right: there’d be food and warmth for the babies by the time the snows came. I used to love to walk in the apple orchard at this time of the year, to feel the soft give underfoot when I trod on a fallen fruit. Thick, sweet scents of rotting apple and wet wood. This year, the hay stooks are few and the woodpile scant, and neither matters much to me.
12 I was feeling fresh as a rose that Monday at 9.30 a.m. My booze supply had run out on Saturday night. I had no way of replenishing it on the Sabbath because we still had Sunday prohibition in Sydney then. I didn’t have a club; that’d gone a while before, along with my job as an insurance investigator. I also didn’t have a wife – not any more – or friends with well-filled refrigerators. Unless I could be bothered driving twenty-five miles to become a bona fide traveller, Sunday could be as dry as a Mormon meeting hall. I didn’t travel. I spent the day on Bondi beach and the evening with tonic water and Le Carre, so I was clear-headed and clean-shaven, doodling on the desk blotter, when the phone rang.
13 When we were thirteen, the coolest things to do were the things your parents wouldn’t let you do. Things like have sex, smoke cigarettes, nick off from school, go to the drive-in, take drugs, and go to the beach.
14 My great-aunt Juliet was knocked over and killed by a bus when she was 85. The bus was travelling very slowly in the right direction and could hardly have been missed by anyone except Aunt Juliet, who must have been travelling fairly fast in the wrong direction.
15 Harry Joy was to die three times, but it was his first death which was to have the greatest effect on him, and it is this first death which we shall now witness.
16 I remember the day I found out my mother was head sick. She wore worry on her wrists as she tied the remaining piece of elastic to the base of the old ice-cream container. Placing her soft hands under my jaw so as to get a better look at me, Mum’s sad emerald eyes bled through her black canvas and tortured willow hair. She had a face that only smiled in photographs. She finished fixing my brother, Billy, also in an ice-cream tub helmet and sent us fishing. Puncturing the fear that magpies would swoop down and peck out the tops of our heads.
Here was this stain on the carpet, a wet patch big as a coffee table. He had no idea what it was or how it got there. But the sight of it put the wind right up him.
18 ‘Boo hoo! Ow, ow; Oh! oh! Me’ll die. Boo, hoo. The pain, the pain! Boo, hoo!’
19 She ran her fingers over the fresh figs. Surprising little sacs they were. Funny, dark and wrinkled, yet so exquisite on the tongue. Mother Nature had surely been thinking of Father Nature when she invented figs.
20 All the June Saturday afternoon Sam Pollit’s children were on the lookout for him as they skated round the dirt sidewalks and seamed old asphalt of R Street and Reservoir Road that bounded the deep-grassed acres of Tohoga House, their home.
1 Joseph Furphy Such is Life
2 Helen Garner Monkey Grip
3 Colleen McCullough The Thorn Birds
4 Shane Maloney Stiff
5 Charlotte Wood Animal People
6 Kate Grenville The Secret River
7 Christos Tsiolkas The Slap
8 David Malouf An Imaginary Life
9 Jean Bedford Sister Kate
10 Frank Moorhouse Grand Days
11 Geraldine Brooks Year of Wonders
12 Peter Corris The Dying Trade
13 Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette Puberty Blues
14 Robin Eakin Aunts Up the Cross
15 Peter Carey Bliss
16 Tara June Winch Swallow the Air
17 Tim Winton Eyrie
18 Miles Franklin My Brilliant Career
19 Linda Jaivin Eat Me
20 Christina Stead The Man Who Loved Children