Category Archives: November 2014

Euphoria by Lily King – Extract

9781743534991As they were leaving the Mumbanyo, someone threw something at them. It bobbed a few yards from the stern of the canoe. A pale brown thing.

‘Another dead baby,’ Fen said.

He had broken her glasses by then, so she didn’t know if he was joking.

Ahead lay the bright break in the curve of dark green land where the boat would go. She concentrated on that. She did not turn around again. The few Mumbanyo on the beach were singing and beating the death gong for them, but she did not look at them a last time. Every now and then when the four rowers—all standing, calling back to their people or out to other canoes—pulled at the same time, a small gust of wind struck her damp skin. Her lesions prickled and tight-ened, as if hurrying to heal in the brief dry air. The wind stopped and started, stopped and started. She could feel the gap between sensation and recognition of it, and knew the fever was coming on again. The rowers ceased rowing to stab a snake-necked turtle and haul it into the boat, still writhing.

Behind her, Fen hummed a dirge for the turtle, too low for anyone but her to hear.

A motorboat was waiting for them where the Yuat met the Sepik. There were two white couples on board with the driver, a man named Minton whom Fen knew from Cairns.

The women wore stiff dresses and silk stockings, the men dinner jackets. They did not complain about the heat, which meant they lived here, the men overseeing either plantations or mines, or enforcing the laws that protected them. At least they weren’t missionaries. She couldn’t have tolerated a mis-sionary today. One woman had bright gold hair, the other eyelashes like black ferns. Both carried beaded purses. The smooth white of their arms looked fake. She wanted to touch the one closer to her, push up her sleeve and see how far up the white went, the way all her tribes wherever she went needed to touch her when she first arrived. She saw pity in the women’s gazes as she and Fen boarded with their dirty duffels and their malarial eyes.

The engine when it started up was so loud, so startling, that her hands rose to her ears like a child’s. She saw Fen flinch to do the same and she smiled reflexively, but he did not like that she’d noticed and moved away from her to talk to Minton. She took a seat on the bench at the stern with the women.

‘What’s the occasion?’ she asked Tillie, the gold-haired one. If she’d had that hair, the natives would never have stopped touching. You couldn’t go into the field with hair like that.

They both managed to hear her over the engine and laughed.

‘It’s Christmas Eve, silly.’

They had been drinking already, though it couldn’t have been much past noon, and it would have been easier to be called silly if she hadn’t been wearing a filthy cotton shift over Fen’s pajamas. She had the lesions, a fresh gash on her hand 2 from a sago palm thorn, a weakness in her right ankle, the old Solomon neuritis in her arms, and an itchy sting between her toes that she hoped wasn’t another batch of ringworm.

She could normally keep the discomfort at bay while she was working but it kicked in hard watching these women in their silks and pearls.

‘Do you think Lieutenant Boswell will be there?’ Tillie asked the other woman.

‘She thinks he’s divine.’ This one, Eva, was taller, stately, bare-fingered.

‘I do not. And so do you,’ Tillie said.

‘But you are a married woman, my dear.’

‘You can’t expect someone to stop noticing people the minute the ring goes on,’ Tillie said.

‘I don’t. But your husband certainly does.’

In her mind Nell was writing:

—ornamentation of neck, wrists, fingers

—paint on face only

—emphasis on lips (dark red) and eyes (black)

—hips emphasized by cinching of waist

—conversation competitive

—the valued thing is the man, not having one, neces-sarily, but having the ability to attract one

She couldn’t stop herself.

‘Have you been studying the natives?’ Tillie asked her.

‘No, she’s come from the Twilight Ball at the Floating Palais.’ Eva had the heavier Australian accent, the most like Fen’s.

‘I have,’ she said. ‘Since July. I mean, the July before this last one.’

‘A year and a half up that little tributary somewhere?’

Tillie said.

‘Good God,’ Eva said.

‘A year first in the mountains north of here with the Anapa,’ Nell said. ‘And then another five and a half months with the Mumbanyo up the Yuat. We left early. I didn’t like them.’

‘ Like them?’ Eva said. ‘I would think keeping your head attached to your neck might be a more reasonable goal.’

‘Were they cannibals?’

It was not safe to give them an honest answer. She did not know who their men were. ‘No. They fully understand and abide by the new laws.’

‘They’re not new, ’ Eva said. ‘They were issued four years ago.’

‘I think to an ancient tribe it all feels new. But they obey.’

And blame all their bad luck on the lack of homicide.

‘Do they talk about it?’ Tillie said.

She wondered why every white asked about cannibalism.

She thought of Fen when he returned from the ten-day hunt, his sad attempt to keep it from her. I tasted it, he finally blurted out. And they’re right, it does taste like old pig. It was a joke the Mumbanyo had, that the missionaries had tasted like old pig.

‘They speak of it with great longing.’

The two women, even long brazen Eva, shrank a bit.

And then Tillie asked, ‘Did you read the book about the Solomon Islands?’

‘Where all the children were fornicating in the bushes?’


‘I did.’ And then, Nell couldn’t help herself, ‘Did you like it?’

‘Oh I don’t know,’ Tillie said. ‘I don’t understand what all the fuss is about.’

‘Is there fuss?’ Nell said. She’d heard nothing about its reception in Australia.

‘I’ll say.’

She wanted to ask by whom and about what, but one of the men was coming around with an enormous bottle of gin, refilling glasses.

‘Your husband said you wouldn’t want any,’ he said to her apologetically, for he did not have a glass for her.

Fen had his back to her but she could see the expression on his face just from the way he was standing with his back arched and his heels slightly lifted. He would be compensat-ing for his wrinkled clothing and his odd profession with a hard masculine glare. He would allow himself a small smile only if he himself had made the joke.

Fortified by several sips, Tillie continued her inquiry.

‘And what will you write about these tribes?’

‘It’s all a jumble in my head still. I never know anything until I get back to my desk in New York.’ She was aware of her own impulse to compete, to establish dominance over these clean, pretty women by conjuring up a desk in New York.

‘Is that where you’re headed now, back to your desk?’

Her desk. Her office. The diagonal window that looked out onto Amsterdam and 118th. Distance could feel like a terrible claustrophobia at times. ‘No, we’re going to Victoria next, to study the Aborigines.’

Tillie pulled a pout. ‘You poor thing. You look beat up enough as it is.’

‘We can tell you right here all you need to know about the Abos,’ Eva said.

‘It was just this last five months, this last tribe.’ She could not think how to describe them. She and Fen had not agreed on one thing about the Mumbanyo. He had stripped her of her opinions. She marveled now at the blankness.

Tillie was looking at her with a drunk’s depthless concern.

‘Sometimes you just find a culture that breaks your heart,’ she said finally.

‘Nellie,’ Fen called at her. ‘Minton says Bankson is still here.’ He waved his hand upriver.

Of course he is, she thought, but said, ‘The one who stole your butterfly net?’ She was trying to be playful.

‘He didn’t steal anything.’

What had he said exactly? It had been on the ship coming home from the Solomons, in one of their first conversations.

They’d been gossiping about their old professors. Haddon liked me, Fen had said, but he gave Bankson his butterfly net.

Bankson had ruined their plans. They’d come in ’31 to study two New Guinea tribes. But because Bankson was on the Sepik River, they’d gone north, up the mountains to the Anapa, with the hope that when they came back down in a year he’d be gone and they’d have their pick of the river tribes, whose less isolated cultures were rich with artistic, economic, and spiritual traditions. But he was still there, so they’d gone in the opposite direction from him and the Kiona he studied, south down a tributary of the Sepik called the Yuat, where they’d found the Mumbanyo. She had known that tribe was a mistake after the first week, but it took her five months to convince Fen to leave.

Fen stood beside her. ‘We should go and see him.’

‘Really?’ He’d never suggested this before. Why now, when they’d already made arrangements for Australia? He had been with Haddon, Bankson, and the butterfly net in Sydney four years ago, and she didn’t think they had liked each other much.

Bankson’s Kiona were warriors, the rulers of the Sepik before the Australian government had cracked down, separat-ing villages, allotting them parcels of land they did not want, throwing resisters in jail. The Mumbanyo, fierce warriors themselves, told tales of the Kiona’s prowess. This was why he wanted to visit Bankson. The tribe is always greener on the other side of the river, she often tried to tell him. But it was impossible not to be envious of other people’s people.

Until you laid it all out neatly on the page, your own tribe looked a mess.

‘Do you think we’ll see him in Angoram?’ she asked.

They could not go traipsing after Bankson. They’d made the decision to go to Australia. Their money wouldn’t last much more than half a year, and it would take several weeks to get settled among the Aborigines.

‘Doubt it. I’m sure he steers clear of the government station.’

The speed of the boat was disorienting. ‘We need to get that pinnace to Port Moresby tomorrow, Fen. The Gunai are a good choice for us.’

‘You thought the Mumbanyo were a good choice for us, too, when we headed there.’ He rattled the ice of his empty glass. He looked like he had more to say, but he walked back to Minton and the other men.

‘Been married long?” asked Tillie.

‘Two years in May,’ Nell said. ‘We had the ceremony the day before we came out here.’

‘Swish honeymoon.’

They laughed. The bottle of gin came round again.

For the next four and a half hours Nell watched the dressed-up couples drink, tease, flirt, wound, laugh, apolo-gize, separate, reintegrate. She watched their young uneasy faces, saw how thin the layer of self-confidence was, how easily it slipped off when they thought no one was looking.

Occasionally Tillie’s husband would raise his arm to point out something on land: two boys with a net, a quoll hanging like a melting sack from a tree, an osprey coasting to its nest, a red parrot mocking their engine. She tried not to think about the villages they were passing, the raised houses and the fire pits and the children hunting for snakes in the thatch with spears. All the people she was missing, the tribes she would never know and words she would never hear, the worry that they might right now be passing the one people she was meant to study, a people whose genius she would unlock, and who would unlock hers, a people who had a way of life that made sense to her. Instead she watched these Westerners and she watched Fen, speaking his hard talk to the men, aggressively pressing them about their work, defensively responding when they asked about his, coming to seek her out then punishing her with a few cutting words and an abrupt retreat. He did this four or five times, dumping his frustration on her, unaware of his own pattern. He was not through punishing her for wanting to leave the Mumbanyo.

‘He’s handsome, isn’t he, your husband,’ Eva said, when no one else could hear. ‘I bet he cleans up well.’

The boat slowed, the water glowed salmon pink in the sunset, and they were there. Three dock boys, dressed in white pants, blue shirts, and red caps came running out from the Angoram Club to tie up the boat.

‘Lukaut long,’ Minton barked at them in pidgin. ‘Isi isi.’

To each other they spoke in their tribal language, Taway most likely. To the disembarking passengers they said, ‘Good evening,’ in a crisp British accent. She wondered how far their knowledge of English extended.

‘How are you this evening?’ she asked the biggest boy.

‘Fine, thank you, Madame.’ He reminded her of their Anapa shoot boy, with his easy confidence and willingness to smile.

‘It’s Christmas Eve, I hear.’

‘Yes, Madame.’

‘Do you celebrate it?’

‘Oh yes, Ma’am.’

The missionaries had gotten to them.

‘And what are you hoping for?’ she asked the second biggest.

‘A fishing net, Ma’am.’ He tried to keep the sentence brief and dispassionate like the other boy’s, but he burst out,

‘Like the one my brother has got last year.’

‘And the first thing he catched were me!’ the littlest cried out.

All three boys laughed, their teeth bright white. At their age most Mumbanyo boys no longer had many teeth, having lost them to rot or fights, and the ones that remained were stained scarlet by the betel nut they chewed.

Just as the big boy began to explain, Fen called to her from the ramp. The white couples, already up on the land, seemed to be laughing at them, at the woman in the filthy men’s pajamas, trying to talk to the natives, at the gaunt bearded Aussie, who may or may not clean up well, teeter-ing with their bags, calling for his wife.

She told the boys to have a merry Christmas, which they thought was funny, and they wished her the same. She would have liked to squat on that dock with those boys all night.

Fen, she saw, was not mad. He shifted both bags onto his left shoulder and offered her his right arm as if she too were wearing an evening dress. She slipped her left arm through and he clamped down. The lesion she had there stung from the pressure.

‘It’s Christmas Eve for Christ’s sake. Must you always be working?’ But his voice was teasing now, almost apologetic.

We are here, his arm tight around hers said. It is over with the Mumbanyo. He kissed her and this too made the pain flare but she didn’t complain. He didn’t like her strong, nor did he like her weak. Many months ago he’d grown tired of sickness and sores. When his fever rose, he took forty-mile hikes. When he had a thick white worm growing beneath the skin of his leg, he cut it out himself with a penknife.

They were given a room on the second story. Music from the club’s dining room below vibrated in the floorboards.

She touched one of the twin beds. It was made up with stiff white sheets and a fat pillow. She pulled the top sheet from its tight bind and got in. It was just an old narrow army cot but it felt like a cloud, a clean smooth starched cloud.

She felt sleep, the old heavy kind, the kind of her childhood, come for her.

‘Good idea,’ Fen said, taking off his shoes. There was a whole bed for him, too, but he pushed his way in beside her and she had to turn toward him on her side so as not to fall off. ‘Time to procreate,’ he said in a singsong.

His hands slid down the back of her cotton pants, grabbed the flesh of her bottom, and pressed her groin to his. It reminded her of how she used to smack her paper dolls together after she had outgrown them but had not yet put them away. But it didn’t work, so he took her hand and brought it down and once she had gripped him fully, he covered her hand with his own and brought it up and down in a rhythm she knew well but he would never let her try on her own. His breathing quickly became fast and labored, but it took a long time for the penis to show even the slightest sign of stiffness. It flopped beneath their two hands like a jellyfish. It wasn’t the right time, anyway. She was about to get her period.

‘Shit,’ Fen muttered. ‘Bloody hell.’

The anger seemed to send a surge of something down there, and suddenly it shot out of their hands, huge, hard, and flushed purple.

‘Stick it in,’ Fen said. ‘Stick it in right now.’

There was no reasoning with him, no speaking of dry-ness or timing or oncoming fevers or lesions that would open when rubbed against the linen sheets. They would leave bloody stains and the Taway maids would think it was menstrual blood and have to burn them for superstitious reason, these beautiful fresh clean sheets.

She stuck it in. The small sections of her flesh that did not hurt were numb if not dead. Fen pumped against her.

When it was over, he said, ‘There’s your baby.’

‘At least a leg or two,’ she said, as soon as she could trust her voice.

He laughed. The Mumbanyo believed it took many times to make a whole baby. ‘We’ll get to the arms later tonight.’ He swiveled his face to hers and kissed her. ‘Now let’s get ready for that party.’

There was an enormous Christmas tree in the far corner. It looked real, as if they’d shipped it from New Hampshire. The room was crowded with men mostly, owners and overseers, river drivers and government kiaps, crocodile hunters with their smelly taxidermists, traders, smugglers, and a few hard-drinking ministers. The pretty women from the boat seemed to glow, each at the center of her own ring of men. Taway servants wore white aprons and carried trays of champagne. They had long limbs and long, narrow noses, unmarked by piercings or scarring. They were, she guessed, a nonwarring people like the Anapa. What would happen if they ever put a governor’s station down the Yuat River? You couldn’t tie a white apron on a Mumbanyo. You’d get your neck slit if you tried.

She took a glass from a tray held out to her. On the other side of the room, beyond the tray and the arm of the Taway man who held it, she saw a man beside the tree, a man quite possibly taller than the tree, touching a branch with his fingers.

Without her glasses, my face would have been little more than a pinkish smudge among many, but she seemed to know it was me as soon as I lifted my head.


South of Darkness by John Marsden – Extract

9781743531563Having been asked by the Revd Mr Johnson to jot down a few notes about my upbringing and the manner of my arrival in the colony, I will attempt to do so, but I should say at the outset that I have little of interest to relate. I have not contributed much of worth to the world, as will no doubt become obvious in the pages that follow, and indeed I sometimes wonder that I even survived the trials and tribulations of my earliest years.

I will begin, however, by relating my present situation. I do so in order to get my thoughts assembled in some way, for I confess I am loath to go back over some of the more painful memories that have accompanied me to this place. Verily, it seems easier to write about what I see outside my window than what I see when I look to the interior, at the dark rooms of the past.

Around me, then, are a few cleared acres, with trunks of trees piled here and there. These were fired the day before yesterday and are still smouldering. The smoke steals into everything, making my eyes water and my cough even worse. If a man wakes in the middle of the night he sees the red glows in all directions, and though he can be thankful for the warmth, he still shivers at the thought of that infernal flame to which a great number of the men and women who inhabit this place may expect to be consigned when the awful knell sounds.

Beyond the beginnings of Mr Cowper’s farm lies the endless grey-green forest of this land. My fellow convicts, not to mention the soldiers, marines, emancipates and free men, were and still are for the most part uninterested in what they see as its strangeness and monotony. When I first arrived I regarded it with much the same distaste. Yet gradually I have fallen under its spell. To wander through it is to be struck by both its immensity and at the same time the delicate details that I fear generally escape the notice of my compatriots. As a boy and young man I believe I lacked the capacity to notice its finer features, for attention to detail comes only with age. As time passed, however, I did have quite singular opportunities to get to know it at close quarters, and perhaps those early experiences laid the foundations for my current appreciation of its qualities.

I feel I have at least been able to venture some small way into its mysteries.

At first one is struck by the absolute peculiarity of the native creatures. I remember vividly the first time I surprised kangaroos at rest. They were in the middle of a stand of trees, in a clearing with sufficient grass for them to rest comfortably. The sun was at its height. The first they knew of my presence was when I emerged from a dense stretch of eucalyptus at the edge of the glade they had adopted as their home. They were as startled as I was. In a rather ungainly way they scrambled to their feet and bounded away, scattering in a variety of directions. Kangaroos are one of the few wild creatures who do not move quietly, when in flight at least. They pound the ground with the heavy spring of their rear legs, so I could hear them for a considerable time.

In spring, the little prickly beasts known as echidnas are everywhere, sometimes in a line of three or four. I believe they can be compared to the hedgehogs of home, but I have seen these latter only in books. The koala bears are rather less common, and are seldom seen on the ground. Men say they never need water, but I have observed them several times lapping from pools. In their trees, where they spend the greater part of their lives, they are slow and ponderous, moving from branch to branch with the solemnity of a judge at the Old Bailey. Unlike those awful dispensers of justice, however, the koalas, with their babies clinging to their backs, make a charming spectacle.

It must not be thought that it is just the creatures of this country which give the forest its beauty. Sprinkled through it, in the spring particularly, are brightly coloured flowers which would be lauded were they to grow in the woods and heathlands of England. Here they are disregarded, because they come into bloom for brief intervals only, and because they are not easily evident in the endless expanse of trees and grasses. Some are indeed among the tiniest and most delicate of God’s creations, but are they to be crushed under the careless boot of a soldier or convict for that reason alone? They too have their place. To be insignificant in Man’s eyes says nothing of the way we are viewed by the Supreme Being who, despite the vicissitudes of my life, I still believe made me, and everything else, and did so for a reason.

In my time I have been somewhat insignificant, and exactly why God took the trouble to create me has been difficult to imagine, though I can hardly be compared to a flower. A rank weed perhaps. Yet I too have felt the crushing boot of my uncaring fellows. Perhaps it is time, though, that I complied with Revd Mr Johnson’s charge, to describe a little of my tale.

My name, then, is Barnaby Fletch. To the best of my knowledge I have no middle name and cannot say of whom I am the son, or of whom my father’s father’s father was the son. I can hardly give the story of my birth let alone my pedigree, unlike the gentlefolk who are able to say, ‘My great-great-grandfather fought with . . . at . . .’ or ‘On my mother’s side I am descended from the Duke of . . .’ Would that I could. Alas, my origins are shrouded in mystery, and the only mother and father I can summon are wraiths. On occasions I have invoked these phantoms in my mind, attempting to give myself succour in times of loneliness or sorrow, but the images I have conjured, which I am convinced are manifestations of the imagination alone, have provided little in the way of comfort, and I can only pray that all will be revealed when I am summoned to the Judgement Seat, for it is not likely to happen during my mortal existence.

My earliest memory is of being pulled aside in a crowded and narrow street that I surmise must have been in London, for I have no memory of ever going outside that town until I was thirteen years old. I believe I was about to be run over by a grand carriage, perhaps in the manner in which the aristocrats of France cared not whom they crushed under their wheels in the days before the recent revolution in that country. It may have been merely a cab; I cannot say at this distance. I recollect huge wheels and the great noise they made on the cobblestones, and my arm being nearly wrenched out of its socket and a voice bellowing at me in anger at my carelessness. Some shiny bauble had attracted me and I think I had trotted out into the path of the carriage to collect it. I know not what manner of thing it was, for the arm pulled me head over heels, and by the time I regained my balance, the shiny object was gone.

Perhaps it was just a beam of sunlight reflecting from a puddle. I had not cried at the violent pulling on my arm, nor at my near escape from death, nor at being turned upside-down on the roadway, but I cried at the loss of the bright hope represented by the gleam on the cobblestones. Perhaps the man who snatched me clear and then roared at me was my father. There are wisps of memory of a big bearded man who shouted a lot, and a woman who held me tight at certain times and pushed me away at others. These are the wraiths to which I can give no earthly form. Likely they have now gone to their rest and I can only pray that they know God’s love and forgiveness in their eternal home.

House of Karls by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki – Extract


Today there are many diets available to anybody wanting to lose some weight – some might say too many. One current favourite is the so-called “Paleolithic Diet”.

In a nutshell, it claims that our Paleolithic hunter–gatherer ancestors lived in wondrous harmony with their environment, which gave them exactly the food they needed to live a long and happy life. This sweet congruence came to an unhappy end with the development of agriculture and grain-based diets. Furthermore, the Paleo Diet claims that the period of 12,000 years or so since we invented agriculture is far too short for our bodies to have evolved to cope with the new foods that agriculture has given us.

In other words, the key to a healthy and long life is to abandon our modern agricultural diets and eat what our Paleolithic ancestors ate.

But this claim is false – and has no basis in dietetic, evolutionary or archaeological reality.

What Is the Paleo Diet?

The Paleo Diet is also called the Stone Age Diet, and the Hunter–Gatherer Diet.

It was first promoted by the gastroenterologist Walter L. Voegtlin in the mid-1970s. He argued that we humans are carnivores (wrong), and that our Paleolithic ancestors ate a carnivore’s diet (wrong again). Therefore, he claimed, our diet should be meat and fat, with tiny amounts of carbohydrates.

The Diet was re-invented by S. Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner in 1985. They called it the

“Evolutionary Discordance Hypothesis”. This Diet is based on grass-fed, pasture-raised meat and poultry, as well as seafood, along with some fruit, green vegetables, eggs, nuts, roots and fungi. Sounds quite reasonable. It also advocates excluding dairy, grains, legumes, potatoes or processed oils. Less reasonable – I love them all, especially olive oil!

It also excludes refined salt and refined sugar. It’s an excellent idea to minimise consuming lots of refined sugar, but what about the occasional birthday cake?


The Paleo Diet has major problems at every possible level – from theoretical to practical.

First, our ancestors ate many very different varieties of Paleolithic Diets. There was no one single Paleo Diet for all the humans across our planet.

Second, we humans actually have done a lot of evolving in the last 12,000 years. That includes evolution in regard to what we can eat.

Third, we can’t eat what our Paleolithic ancestors ate anyway – because most of that stuff is not around any more.

And fourth, the recommended Paleolithic Diet is way out of kilter with what dieticians currently recommend.


“Paleolithic” literally means “Stone Age”. The Paleolithic era spans a period from around 2.5 million years ago, right up until the development of agriculture some 12,000 years ago. (I discuss Agriculture in my 17th book, Flying Lasers, Robofish and Cities of Slime.)

When people started writing books about the Paleolithic Diet back in the 1970s, we had only a very vague idea of what our Stone Age ancestors ate. (Yup, the original writers advocating Paleolithic Diets were far more like “creative writers” than “factual writers”.) We did have hints of a bias towards a diet focused on meat. For example, we have found paintings, some 17,300 years old, inside the Lascaux Cave in the Dordogne region of France. They show animals, and people hunting animals. They don’t show any agricultural fields. But since then our anthropologists and archaeologists have looked at fireplaces, middens (dunghills or refuse tips), the actual teeth of t our Paleolithic ancestors, and even the tools used to prepare their meals.

It turns out that they ate a highly varied diet. Cereals and grains are forbidden in the Paleolithic Diet. But we know for sure that our ancestors ate them. The evidence for this came from examining dental plaque an wear marks on their teeth, as well as the tools they used to process food.

And was there one single Paleolithic Diet, right across the planet?

Did everyone eat the same meal in what we now call Africa and Europe, the Americas, Asia and Australia? “No” from common sense, and “no” from what our archaeologists and anthropologists have found.

We see an incredible spread in the diets of some of the so-called “primitive” peoples. The Inuit of the Arctic get 99 per cent of their calories from meat, while the !Kung people of Africa eat around 12 per cent meat. That’s a huge range. They definitely don’t eat the same identical meal.

What Do Dieticians Say?

A 2011 report involving 22 experts rated 20 diets. Based on factors such as health, ease of following and weight loss, the Paleo Diet came last. In 2012, it tied for last place with the Dukan Diet for the lowest rating – 29th out of 29 diets.

To complete its losing streak, in 2014, Paleo tied for last place (32nd out of 32) with the Dukan Diet.


Another cornerstone of the Paleolithic Diet Creed is that our bodies could not possibly have evolved fast enough in the last 12,000 years to accommodate our new foods.

We have very solid evidence (for example, from their teeth) that 30,000 years ago some of our ancestors were already eating grainsand legumes.

Indeed, the promulgators of the Diet claim that our genes haven’t changed for 50,000 years. This is so very wrong. Evolution can be quite quick on the uptake. In the last 7000 years, about one third of us have evolved to be able to drink milk when we grow into adults (see story on “Lactose Intolerance” on page 151). There are 6000-year-old rock paintings of people herding domestic cattle in the Jebel Acacus region of the Sahara Desert in Libya. Seven thousand years is definitely less than 12,000 years!

Still concentrating on food, some of us have evolved extra copies of the amylase enzyme so that we can more easily digest starches. Furthermore, some Japanese have evolved special bacteria in their guts that can digest seaweed – so sushi is no trouble at all. (See “The Stranger Within” in my 31st book, Brain Food.)

Moving away from evolution related to food, some of us have evolved blue eyes (6000 to 10,000 years ago). Others among us, in Africa, evolved resistance to malaria (5000 to 10,000 years ago).

Consider the challenge of living at high altitudes. Three separate groups of humans living in Tibet, the Andes and in Ethiopia have evolved three different methods of dealing with low oxygen. So, yes, our bodies could easily evolve fast enough in 12,000 years to accommodate new foods. In fact, they have.

Weight Loss? One of the claims of the Paleo Diet is that it triggers the production of hormones that then suppress hunger. In turn, this would produce the desired weight loss – the whole point of any Fad Diet. Researchers found this to be incorrect. The hunger-suppressing hormones are not triggered by the diet.


The third problem with the Paleolithic Diet is that the food eaten back then is simply not around any more. We have transformed the meat and plant species we eat through millennia of artificial selection and evolution.

If you look at what comes from today’s food animals, very few meats are as lean as those our Paleolithic ancestors ate. Indeed, many of the larger food animals have gone. There are no more mammoths or moas, and the last auroch (a super-large cow) died in Poland in 1627. However, kangaroo meat is pretty lean.

Today’s corn started off as a straggly skinny grass in Central America, while tomatoes used to be tiny berries. Bananas were mostly filled with seeds until a recent mutation (discussed in my 24th book, Disinformation). Consider cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower and kale: they might look wildly different today, but they are each cultivars of one single species, Brassica oleracea.

Modern versions of the Paleo Diet recognise that foods have changed, and allow domesticated animal meat and cultivated plants. S. Boyd Eaton and Melvin Konner have recently “adjusted” their 1985 version of the Paleo Diet to allow whole grains and low-fat dairy products.


The fourth problem with the Paleolithic Diet is its nutritional aspects.

The core recommendation of the Diet is a high protein intake – 19 to 35 per cent of a person’s daily energy. This is quite a lot higher than the Australian Nutrient Reference Values suggestion of 15 to 25 per cent. Indeed, diets rich in meat are associated with higher rates of heart disease. The Paleolithic Diet also recommends a moderate to high intake of fat – again, not recommended by modern dieticians.

The Diet advises not to eat any whole grains. However, we have very solid evidence (for example, from their teeth) that 30,000 years ago some of our ancestors were already eating grains and legumes.

But, on the plus side, the Paleolithic Diet advises against eating processed foods with added salt, sugars and flavourings – entirely sensible. It also recommends fibre from vegetables and fruit – an excellent suggestion.


The Paleo Diet relies on the underlying fantasy that, if we simply follow it, we’ll change from a balding, pot-bellied man slouched in front of a computer into a tall, well-muscled man with perfect teeth, an artfully placed fur loincloth and a spear.

Sure, sitting all day is not good for you. (I recently changed over to a desk that adjusts from standing to sitting.) But our gut is perfectly adequate for many different diets. After all, meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans can all be very healthy.

Our digestive system has adapted to eat most foods. Our mouths are equipped with the teeth of both carnivores and herbivores – we can tear meat with our canines, and we can grind fibrous plants with our molars. The gut that runs between our mouth and anus is totally different from a straight line (the shortest distance between two points). Instead, it’s about 10 metres long. It’s not the short gut of a carnivore. Neither does it have the multi-stomach fermentation chambers of a grass-eating herbivore. It’s in between.

Gregor Yanega, a professor of biology at Pacific University in Oregon, has said, “Our guts are special because they are less specialised. They can accommodate so many changes in the foods that surround us, can accommodate unusual abundance and a certain amount of scarcity: we can even eat some of the world’s more difficult foodstuffs: grains, leaves and plants. Berries, nuts, meats, sugars, those are easy. Eating them together is pretty rare.”

Maybe we should forget Fad Diets, and just remember Michael Pollan’s simpler and more useful advice: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”

The Great War by Les Carlyon – Extract


Here dead lie we because we did not choose

To live and shame the land from which we sprung.

Life, to be sure, is nothing much to lose;

But young men think it is, and we were young.

– A. E. Housman

There were so many of them, more than three hundred thousand, and we never really saw them. Not when it mattered to see them anyway, not when they were doing the things that marked them as different, then and now, from the rest of us.

Here they are resting during a lull in one of the Somme battles, their boots sprinkled with white dust. Some drag on cigarettes, lumpy and hand-rolled. One daydreams and another, eyes big, face like a slab of marble, just stares, not at the landscape, not at the shell holes that sit lip to lip like sores, but at some panorama that exists only in his mind and now holds him prisoner. One re-reads a cutting that his mother has sent him from the Ballarat Courier.

Another scribbles with an indelible pencil worn so short that it needs to be gripped with the thumb and forefinger in a taut circle. He adds three or four lines to what he wrote the night before. It seems important to write things down. It makes the absurd seem real. You could see the German shells in the sky at the top of their arc. Others saw them too. And writing makes events seem less terrible. If you can write about them, they are at least imaginable.

One man, propped on his elbow, tries to doze, his helmet tilted over his eyes, a sprig of hair fluffing out one side. Another peers at the tear in his trousers as though it is a personal insult. The barbed wire has brought up a blood-stippled welt on his thigh. In this war it is nothing much. Some of the men’s faces carry the soft contours of youth but sometimes the eyes look older than the faces.

They are stretched out on the downs, these men, on those red-brown earths shot through with lumps of chalk, rich dirt, soft country, nothing like home. Back there the soils were thin and hun-gry, as if some earlier civilisation had worn them out and left, so that all the ground could push up now was scraggy gums. But at least Australian soils smelled sweet. They didn’t reek of explosives and wet sandbags and decomposing bodies that would swell up, then turn black and, if left, become huddles of khaki or grey that hid a jumble of bones, joined here and there by scraps of gristle and blown by the winter winds.

Anyone coming upon this group resting on the Somme would know at once that they were Australians. They had a look to them.

There was a lankiness, a looseness in the way they moved that was occasionally close to elegance but not quite soldierly. War and the old world of Europe had failed to impose all of its formalities on them. They were good at war but in a way that offended the keep-ers of the orthodoxies: lots of dash, not much discipline away from the battlefield. They were good at war but they didn’t want to stay in the army once the fighting ended. They were all volunteers. This was an interlude, not a career. When it was over they would go back to being commercial travellers and science teachers, farmers and bank clerks. In 1918 two architects, an orchardist and a gra-zier commanded four of the five Australian divisions. The corps commander, an engineer from a family of Jewish immigrants that had settled in Melbourne, also had degrees in law and arts, played the piano, sketched and wrote.

We, their kin and countrymen, didn’t see the Australians when they were roistering in the cafés of Poperinghe, behind the Belgian front, where vin blanc was rhymed into plonk and used to wash down eggs and chips. We didn’t see them when they sauntered around Horse Guards in London, eyes wide, because these were men from a land where the most ancient public buildings were little more than 100 years old and weren’t well loved anyway, since they belonged to a convict society that was best not talked about.

We didn’t see them queuing outside the theatres or riding in taxis, carelessly spending their pay, which was much higher than that of their British cousins. We didn’t see them watching the morning horsemanship in Hyde Park and smiling at the primness of it all.

These tourists wore slouch hats and woollen tunics that ballooned over their hips, partly because the pockets always seemed to be full of tins and pouches. They tended to be taller than Englishmen and used slang words that had no currency outside their homeland.

They seemed to be alive with the hopes of the New World and careless when it came to the protocols of the old. They didn’t expect too much from life: that was the way of people then. They wore shoulder badges that said ‘Australia’, and these really weren’t necessary.

Their look, those languid poses, gave them away. They didn’t call themselves ‘Diggers’: that came later.

They didn’t much like saluting: it didn’t seem democratic. A British officer once rebuked an Australian for failing to salute him.

‘I’m a colonel!’ he said.

‘Best job in the army,’ said the Australian. ‘You keep it.’

We didn’t hear these men the way the British and French did. In the night behind the Ypres front an Englishman heard a voice say:

‘Get over, ya bastard.’ It was said casually – there might even have been a hint of affection – and the Englishman knew at once that it was an Australian driver whose horse had shied at some obscenity in a shell hole.

On the Somme front in 1918 an English major observed a ‘curi-ous procession of two – an Australian private soldier, cigarette in mouth, and before him a miserable-looking German shambling along carrying the Aussie’s kit and rifle’. The Australian hadstumbled, drunk, into the British line the previous night. Upon being told where he was he muttered: ‘Hell, I can’t go back to my mob like this. What’ll they say to me?’ He ventured into no-man’s land and half-an-hour later returned with a German. He had crept up to a German post and offered to toss a grenade in unless one man gave himself up. Now the Australian was heading back to his division. He would tender the prisoner in mitigation of being absent without leave. He had a hangover and it was good that the German was there to carry his rifle. Still, he would take it off him as they approached the Australian line. Might look bad.

On that same front in the same year Australians had asked a staff captain of a British formation for more hand grenades, or ‘bombs’ as they were called then. The bombs didn’t come. The Australian commander found the staff captain playing bridge. The Australian threatened to take his men out of the line if the bombs didn’t arrive in half-an-hour. The staff captain got up and ordered the bombs delivered at once. The Australian left. The staff captain returned to the bridge game. ‘By jove,’ he said, ‘stout fellers, these Australians, but socially – impossible.’

The French watched these Australians as they stood, heads uptilted, puzzling over the cathedral in Amiens, a Gothic stab at the heavens, so fussy in all its tracery, so intimidating with its gargoyles and grotesques, and like nothing at Ballarat or Wagga Wagga, where the divine rights of clerics and kings had hardly played at all. The French saw them coming out of the battle for Pozières, white-faced and looking as if they had been drugged. They saw them squatting under the willows that line the Somme canals while four of their mates played cricket nearby, using a stick as a bat. The French saw them offering a farmer’s wife a few coins if she would make them coffee laced with brandy. They would stand in front of her kitchen fire and stare at the crucifixes on the wall, then leave to doss down on straw in one of the barns. They had an easy-going way about them and spoke French badly and in between giggles. They seemed to like farms, although it puzzled them that holdings so small could produce so much, and even more that cows should spend the nights in brick barns, filling them with the ammonia fumes of urine on straw.

The French saw Australians slapping horses with the reins to drive them through a bog, saw them stamping their feet against the frost and snow that seemed so foreign, saw them rolling up their sleeves on a summer’s day before tossing a grenade into a canal in the hope of stunning a few fish. They are still there, so many of these men. Those who were found are in the archipelago of cemeteries that stretches from Villers-Bretonneux to Passchendaele; and those who weren’t lie under fields of corn and sugar beet.

The men spoke of this place in terms of villages, roads and rivers.

To them, the names of these created their own imagery. It was enough to say that a man had been at Bullecourt. It was enough to speak of the Menin Road at Ypres and the Stations of the Cross above it, Polygon Wood and Broodseinde. The men knew the rivers well, because they kept crossing them. The Somme dawdled and the Ancre tinkled. Both might have been thought beautiful in other circumstances.

For three years these Australians, youths of seventeen and bald-ing men of forty-five, tramped up and down the Somme downland and the Flanders plain, past wayside shrines and clusters of brick barns, sometimes marching twenty miles in a day, haversacks and scabbards slapping against their thighs, going up to the war and coming out again, taking in reinforcements and going back again.

We didn’t see them when they won their great battle in front of Amiens in 1918 or when they later broke through the Hindenburg Line, where their leader, Lieutenant-General John Monash, also had two American divisions under his command. In 1918 the world seemed so weary of war and so suspicious of official dispatches that even victories sounded like more of the same and needed to be questioned. By 1918 people knew that the newspapers had not been telling them the truth about the war. We still don’t know much about those successes and the skill with which they were arranged.

Lieutenant Cyril Lawrence wrote to his mother: ‘You will never know, you people in Australia, what the boys have done – even the people of England do not know because they call us British troops in the paper.’ We didn’t know until years later how badly the Australians had suffered in 1916 and 1917, at Fromelles and Pozières, Bullecourt and Passchendaele. As the Australian historian Robin Prior has written, those men engaged the main army of the main enemy in the main theatre of war. This has not happened with Australian troops since.

We saw these men leave, full of derring-do, for a war that would turn out nothing like they expected, and indeed nothing like anyone expected. And we saw some of them come back, many haunted and secretive, and for the next twenty years the country went through a long grieving, and now it was the turn of women and children to suffer and to wonder what demons had come unbidden into their world. They knew these men before and after they went across the sea. They never saw them when, for three years, they did things Australians have never done since.

WHEN YOU TRY to write about these men it is better if you can see the ground, better if you can walk around alone for a while. You mostly end up doing the same things. You work out which way is east and which is west because these are the directions that matter most. The British and the French usually attacked from the west and the Germans for most of the war usually shot them down from trenches and blockhouses in the east. Between east and west is no-man’s land and that’s where you invariably find the shrapnel ball, grey and heavy in the hand, and proof that this field of corn, now sappy with life, was once a place where men from a faraway land cried out for water and their mothers. You hear the barking of unseen dogs and this leads you to identify the village on the river-bank. You can’t see the houses and barns because of the plane trees, but you can see the church spire and one navigates by spires here.

God is everywhere in the lands of the Somme and Flanders, and in the Great War that passeth understanding both sides drew comfort from the certainty that He was with them.

Eventually you are tempted to try something that almost always ends in bathos. You try to redraw the landscape. You blot out the round hay bales and the tractor with a cloud of grey-brown dust boiling behind it. You try to draw in trench lines and observation balloons and khaki bundles hung up on barbed wire. You take that field of sugar beet and try to turn it into thousands of shell holes, each with a slimy puddle at the bottom. You take that copse, soft and leafy, and try to transform it into stumps, outraged and black-ened. It hardly ever works; yet you always try.

It is better to see the ground. It doesn’t necessarily lead you to the truth. Often there is no truth about these battles, just a clamour of voices. But it can be the start of understanding, this walking around. There are other roads to the same end. All have potholes and some are cul-de-sacs.

There are official documents, operational and intelligence reports and the diaries and memoirs of generals. These mostly sound like disembodied voices. They are discreet and careful; they do not admit to chaos or fear; ineptitude is often dressed up as bad luck. The general staff is seldom taken by surprise and the passive voice is almost strident. Failure is often explained by saying that the frontline troops, ‘though they attacked in a most gallant manner ’were ‘inexperienced’. Generals are never said to be inexperienced, and of course they were. But we must also try to be fair to the generals. We should not blame them for not knowing things that we know now.

The diaries of Douglas Haig for 1917 leave the reader convinced that the commander-in-chief of the British and dominion forces didn’t understand that his troops, far away to the east, were stalled in front of Passchendaele village mainly because they were waist-deep in mud and the wounded were drowning. Haig is here, disembodied at GHQ, with sheafs of maps and other pieces of paper that say the war is orderly, almost as orderly as the field-marshal’s daily routine; and the soldiers are there, in an ocean of mud. They no longer know quite where they are or what they are supposed to be doing. They are in the same war as Haig, but their war is a shambles. The generals William Birdwood and Alexander Godley commanded the two Anzac corps for most of the Great War and both afterwards wrote autobiographies. Neither book men-tioned a battle in France in 1916 near a village called Fromelles.

Omission is also part of the game.

As a counterpoint there are the letters and diaries of ordinary soldiers. The diary may be a Collins Paragon Diary No. 181, black-bound and dimpled, or scraps of paper that have been cut into small squares and bound with string. These chronicles are usually written with an indelible pencil and sometimes with fountain pens that leave blots when the hand pauses at the end of a sentence.

Nothing matches them for verisimilitude. An Australian lieutenant writes in 1916: ‘I have one puttee, a dead man’s helmet, another dead man’s gas protector, a dead man’s bayonet. My tunic is rotten with other men’s blood and partly splattered with a comrade’s brains.’ Read that and you know what it was like to be on the gentle rise above Pozières village in 1916.

The vigour and directness of soldiers’ prose also tells us much about the Australian idiom of the day, which was almost free of Americanisms and home-grown in a way that today’s language is not. Men occasionally talked about their mates or pals, but more often they wrote of their cobbers. Seldom does one come upon a soldier saying he went over the top; he hopped the bags. He doesn’t take part in an attack but a stunt. When some of his cobbers are killed he says they are knocked. The place where they are knocked is a very warm corner. Leave in Paris or London is said to be bonzer. High-ranking officers are heads and some of them are thought to be duds. One feels queer when a hot piece of shrapnel tears into one’s arm. After that one looks for a cushy job. A man who is carefree is gay. Things are not stolen but half-inched. Coves, beggars and coots make up the passing parade. Yet there are sometimes problems with soldiers’ letters too.

Troops on a battlefield can see only so far, maybe as little as twenty yards, but they are quick to blame the soldiers on their flanks for any reverses. A soldier writes his account of the battle of Polygon Wood; the date that he gives tells you that he is fighting the battle that preceded it, on Menin Road ridge. We need to remember that there was still a Victorian sensibility, even in private letters. There were things one did not talk about. Fear and despair and doubt were three of them. Pat Barker wrote of English soldiers of the Great War in her novel Regeneration. She has one of her characters say in an interior monologue: ‘They’d been trained to identify emo-tional repression as the essence of manliness.’ So too it was with the Australians.

There is another trouble with soldiers’ letters. They touch you in a way that official documents do not. They drag you in when you are trying to stand back. You follow a man to Egypt and Gallipoli and on to Pozières and Passchendaele. You gain a sense of him, of where he came from and of the people to whom he is writing. You come to like him, his rough sense of humour and his acceptance of outrageous events. And then his letters end and you look him up on a file and it says ‘Killed in action’, followed by a date, and you feel a loss.

And there are maps. A map is sometimes as much an abstraction as a graph about poverty: all the numbers are there, but you can’t smell the boiled cabbage. Detractors pursued General Monash in life and in death. He wasn’t the true article, they whispered: too cerebral, not swashbuckling enough. Some of these critics point to Monash’s failure at Gallipoli in August, 1915, when the brigade he led failed to take the heights above the Anzac beachhead. The battle plan looks reasonable when drawn on a map, and at least one critic has suggested that the poor leadership Monash is supposed to have shown there might be explained by the fact that he was over-weight, which he then was. When you try to follow his steps, in daylight and with no-one shooting at you from the heights, you realise that the swell of Monash’s girth had nothing to do with any-thing. The country there is mad. There is no grain to it. It rears and plunges in a jumble of ravines and razorbacks. And, as you blunder on, you realise that the scheme, that flourish of arrows stabbing into the Turkish hills, could never have worked. It looked right only on a map owned by an officer on the general staff.

It is always better if you can see the ground.

SO WE ARE here on a plain in French Flanders, near the village of Fromelles. That’s its church spire you can see to the east and further along the same rise is the village of Aubers, which gives its name to the ridge, little more than a frown on the horizon, but high enough for observation. The ground on the plain is heavy clay, nothing like as sweet as the chalky loams of the Somme to the south, and as flat as a tabletop. All that breaks it is a ditch, not much more than six-feet across, sullen and splotched with algae, the nettles along its banks proclaiming its sourness. On the trench maps of the Great War this drain rejoiced in the name of the Laies River. Dusk is almost upon us. The sky is pastel blue and streaked with contrails and the east wind blows clouds of butterflies this way and that over a patch of pumpkins. Children sit straight-backed on ponies at the riding school next to the Australian cemetery and the voice of the instructress, bubbly and cheery, echoes across the empty plain and argues with what once went on here.

This is where the Australians in 1916 fought their first battle in France. Several thousand of them died within a few minutes’ walk either side of where you are standing. They died in a single night, many of them before the sun had properly set. Some were Gallipoli men and others had never been in battle before. Some were still wearing felt hats rather than metal helmets. None of them knew much about how the war was being fought on the western front.

They quite likely thought, as they had been taught to think, that winning was about ‘character’ and ‘the spirit of the bayonet’, when in truth the world had changed. Winning was about firepower, which meant artillery, but another year would pass before this notion began to take on. It was, after all, a form of heresy. It went against just about everything a fifty-year-old British general had been taught at his public school, at the staff college and on the job in India, Egypt and South Africa. It reeked of intellectualism – all those calculations about the weight of shells required to take so many yards of trench – and the British armies of the Victorian and Edwardian eras had been uncomfortable with intellectuals. They understood and admired officers who fearlessly put their horses at stone walls on the hunting fields. Field-Marshal Wolseley wrote in 1897: ‘I hope the officers of Her Majesty’s Army may never degen-erate into bookworms.’ There was no sign of this happening, he conceded, before going on to hint that too much reading could be unmanly.

Fromelles may be the most tragic battlefield in Australia’s his-tory. Yet it had no place in Australian folklore during the Great War and none now. The register at the cemetery shows thirty-five visi-tors for the previous month. Fromelles refuses to lodge in the Australian consciousness. One reason for this may be that Pozières, a much bigger battle in which three Australian divisions fought, began four days later down on the Somme. Another may be that Australians at home weren’t told much about Fromelles. And another is almost certainly that the British and Australian commanders didn’t much want to talk about it, because what they ordered done there was afterwards hard to explain.

The Australians and a British division left their breastworks (the ground was too wet to dig conventional trenches) and attacked from the north across the open plain at about 6 pm in bright daylight. The Germans waited for them on the flat ground to the south, where they had built concrete bunkers and blockhouses, notably at a place known as the Sugarloaf, which bulged out as a salient and bristled with machine guns. Other German divisions were behind, up on that ridge where Fromelles nestles, up where you can see everything that moves on the plain. That was the way of the western front for most of the war: the Germans were on the high ground and the British and French were trying to get up there.

SOMEWHERE IN FRONT of the Australians at Fromelles in 1916, somewhere behind the Sugarloaf, probably a mile or so from the front, there was a German corporal who fussed over a white terrier he called Foxl. The dog had strayed over from the British lines and the corporal had taught it tricks. We don’t know whether this soldier was in the fighting against the Australians around the Sugarloaf, although one account – not to be relied upon – has him running through trenches clogged with dead and mutilated men. He was a dispatch runner in the Bavarian division that held the front and had been awarded the Iron Cross, second class, in 1914.

This man stares at us from a photograph taken at Fromelles in April, 1916. He is lank and pale and looks older than his twenty-seven years. He has a thick moustache, droopy and lop-sided, and his neck rears out of a baggy jacket. His eyes are hooded and dull, as though the mind behind them is so run down it can put out no light. There is much of the bumpkin about him: he is not so much a soldier as the man who collects the tickets at an alpine rail-way station. His comrades thought him odd. He would throw a tantrum if the barrack-room talk about the war turned glum. He was too literal-minded to enjoy jokes. He didn’t smoke. He spurned alcohol and the French girls in the back-area villages. He had decided long ago that life was a fearful struggle. Why try to make it pleasanter? The little terrier gave him affection and, unlike the French girls, made no demands on his honour. He was annoyed when, during the Christmas of 1914, German and British troops met in no-man’s land to sing carols and swap cigarettes. He thought such things gave war a bad name.

It would have been better for the world if a stray shell had landed on him at Fromelles during that British-Australian attack of July 19, 1916. He was a nobody then. Later, as Adolf Hitler, the world would come to know him better.

WE NEED TO find the Sugarloaf so that we have a reference point from which we can pencil in the rest of the battlefield. Martial Delebarre, from Fromelles, knows the ground as well as anyone. In 1992 he found a bone-handled table knife here. The blade was broken and rusted. Scratched on the handle was ‘G. Blake’. Private George Francis Blake, a carpenter from Footscray, Victoria, died near the Sugarloaf, aged twenty-six. A year after his death his wife inserted an ‘In Memoriam’ notice in the Age that ended: ‘Each day I miss his footsteps/As I walk through life alone.’

Now Delebarre has to find the Sugarloaf again, and the navigation has to be precise because there isn’t much of the strong point left. You follow him across the wheat stubble, keeping the fetid ditch on the right. You plunge into a field of ripened corn to be swiped by the hairy tassels on the cobs. On the ground you see shrapnel balls and cartridge cases spotted with green mould. Then into a field of potatoes, where you follow the furrows to avoid stepping on the wilting plants. Then into another field of corn, then into wheat stubble that reeks from a dressing of cattle manure.

You turn right across a small bridge over the ditch and into a bigger field of stubble. Now Delebarre’s eyes are searching for the Sugarloaf. Eventually it identifies itself. Weeds spout from a strip of unploughed land, the only untouched soil in the field, just a few feet wide and fifteen-feet long. Iron stakes rise out of the weeds. That’s all that remains. Nearby a rusty cylinder, a shrapnel shell from a British field gun, sits up on the stubble and German rifle rounds are everywhere, most spent, a few not. A farmer ploughs the field as we stand talking. The tines of his plough will bury those German cartridges and bring up other war debris, maybe something exotic, a toffee-apple mortar shell perhaps, or a tin of Three Nuns pipe tobacco.

So you stand there, at the centrepiece of this battlefield, and look back towards the allied line that you can now start to sketch in.

Somewhere near that patch of thistles there died a wool buyer from Geelong, a medical student from Colac, a Duntroon graduate, a detective from Sydney, an architecture student from Melbourne.

Just north of where we are standing the Australian wounded lay in the open, among knee-high weeds that had sprung up in the unplanted fields. Some remained there for five days and nights, sev-eral for three weeks. They scrounged food and water from the dead and watched maggots squirming in their wounds. One man cried out ‘Bill, Bill’ all night and at dawn was heard no more. Some raised their arms and legs or rolled from one side to the other in the hope of shifting the pain. An Australian bringing in broken men from no-man’s land heard a voice about thirty yards away. ‘Don’t forget me, cobber,’ it said. So many friendships ended within a couple of hundred yards of here: over in that stubble, behind the riding school, in and around that ditch, near the patches of pumpkins and cabbages and where the hay bales lie bleaching in the sun.

It is too much for the imagination to take in on this pretty summer’s night with the horizon now blushing with soft pinks.

This place was an open-air abattoir for most of the Great War.

About 20,000 Germans, Britons, Frenchmen, Indians, Australians, Canadians and Portuguese died in these few acres. Most have no known grave. Now this ground is a food bowl again, bleak and sticky in winter, but kind: no droughts, no bushfires.

Fromelles is a typical village in French Flanders, smart and clean the way the Somme villages to the south are dowdy and charming.

Red geraniums explode out of window boxes and elderly couples potter in their vegetable gardens before locking up the ducks for the night. Many of Fromelles’ residents now work in the nearby city of Lille but the village is still about the land and its rhythms.

Australians moving up for the attack here in 1916 recalled passing labourers, men and women with old and inscrutable faces, hoeing mangolds as shells shrieked across the sky. Eighty-seven years on, in the gloaming, you hear the diesel knock of a tractor making a last pass before night closes in.

The land healed itself and life went on as before. Yet the world changed here, and along the line that led north for twenty miles to Passchendaele in Belgium and fifty miles south to the still waters of the Somme, and on from there to the madness of Verdun, where the land has not healed and probably never will. The nature of war changed in these soft fields. War lost its romantic glow here, and let’s not worry that this imagery was false because war has always been about the grubby business of killing people. War here was no longer pretty: no red-and-blue uniforms, no pipeclay, no rushes of cavalry, none of the panoply of the fox hunt, no generals issuing orders from the saddle and needing nothing other than their voice to pass them on. The new colours were khaki and field grey, the right hues for the industrial age and its armies of conscripts. The war here was about machines: howitzers and mortars, machine guns and trains, wafer-like aircraft and tanks so ponderous that one could outpace them on foot, poisonous gas and flamethrowers.

Wars had always been romantic to those who didn’t go, which meant most of the people. Henry V had 7000 men at Agincourt and those who returned made play of a victory against the odds and only whispered about the dysentery and the murder of French prisoners. Shakespeare did the rest.

This was different. It touched more people. One way or another everyone in the British Isles was caught up in the Great War. After the opening of the British attack on the Somme in 1916, with its 57,000 casualties on the first day, whole streets and suburbs fell into mourning. Just about every family, high and low, was touched by death. There seemed more death than glory. The French lost 330,000 men killed or taken prisoner in less than a month early in the war. This was about mass armies and, by mid-1916, there seemed no end to it. Vladimir Lenin, the Bolshevik firebrand living in exile in Switzerland, wrote at the outbreak of war in 1914: ‘The epoch of the bayonet has begun.’ He was wrong. Bayonets caused less than one per cent of deaths on the western front. This was the epoch of the howitzer.

The year before the Australian attack at Fromelles the British had tried to take Aubers Ridge by attacking through the village of Neuve Chapelle. The opening artillery barrage lasted thirty-five minutes and more than eighty aircraft helped direct the fire. More shells were fired in that opening barrage than for all of the Boer War, yet one reason the attack failed was that the barrage was too light. At Verdun in 1916 the Germans brought up 1000 heavy guns and two million shells – for a front of only eight miles. By 1918 Britain’s armies included half-a-million gunners, twice as many men as the whole expeditionary force it had sent to France in 1914.

Australian life was changed by that same line of trenches, but with a difference. Just about alone among the warring powers, Australia did not introduce conscription. A young nation with a population of just under five million at the outbreak of war sent 324,000 volunteers overseas to fight. Most of the 61,000 who died and the 155,000 who were wounded fell along the line that stretched northwards from the Somme to Passchendaele. Those casualties work out at around two-thirds of all who went overseas, the highest rate among the British empire forces. Why did a country so far away from the conflict give up so much? Why did it bury so much of its future under the chalk of the Somme and the clay of Flanders? How many young men who might have been prime ministers or professors, novelists or scientists, lie in the ground here?

FRANCE AND BELGIUM still give up their dead from the Great War.

The headstone of Sergeant John James White, a blacksmith from the high country of East Gippsland, is paler and cleaner than the others in a cemetery near Bullecourt. A tractor driver turned up White’s remains in 1995. A metal detector turned up his effects.

These included a wallet that contained a photograph of the ten-month-old daughter he had left behind. Myrtle went to her father’s funeral in France as an eighty-year-old.

In 1998, near the Windmill above Pozières village, a farmer felt his plough strike something and stopped his tractor. He climbed down to make sure it wasn’t a shell. He had uncovered the body of Private Russell Bosisto, a baker from South Australia, lying in heavy clay. He was on his back and clutching a rifle in his right hand. He had died there in August, 1916, most likely killed by a machine gun. All his effects were with him, including a pipe, a penknife and an identity disc that was still legible. They buried him in a military cemetery down the hill. Mourners gathered blood-red poppies from the nearby fields and dropped them into his grave.

There are few fences on the Somme. When you do see one it is usually around a cemetery from the Great War. And the cemeteries are everywhere, laid out like formal English gardens, the hardness of the headstones offset by the gentleness of roses and daisies and willows.

The grave of Fred Tubb, a farmer from Longwood in Victoria’s north-east, lies near Poperinghe, west of Ypres, in Belgium. There was a hospital here, so it was inevitable that the hop field nearby became a graveyard. Tubb had won the Victoria Cross in the grot-toes of Lone Pine on Gallipoli after being wounded in the head and arm. His time came two years later in the battle of Menin Road, just east of Ypres. A pink rose blooms near his grave. Beyond the cemetery Friesian cattle crop the short grass around a shed, the walls of which are marked with soldiers’ graffiti. The war is gone and it is still here. The past is gone but it isn’t dead. Only the men are dead.

Phillip Schuler lies south of here, just across the border in France, on a rich plain broken by red-brick farmhouses. He was a journalist at the Age. His father edited the paper and suffered throughout the war because of his German name and birthplace.

Phillip Schuler was handsome and outgoing. He loved books and plays and everyone seemed to like him. He went to Gallipoli as a war correspondent, saw Lone Pine and the August offensive and wrote a book, Australia in Arms. Schuler had a sensitive ear and a light touch; it was an astonishingly good book from someone in his mid-twenties. One might have thought that, after Gallipoli, Schuler would have realised that it is always better to be a reporter than a soldier. But in 1916 he enlisted, not as an officer, as he could have been, but as a driver. And, not long after the battle of Messines in Belgium, he died of wounds to the left arm, the right leg, the face and the throat. He was just short of twenty-eight years old and he had literally been shot to pieces.

And here he is now, lying in the ground at Trois Arbres cemetery at Steenwerck with a crab apple tree next to his grave. Each spring the blossom comes out pink for the shining youth who is no more. Schuler lies with 469 Australians, 997 Britons, 214 New Zealanders, twenty-two Canadians, one South African and one Indian. Here, under a grey sky, is a lost generation. There were so many, and they were ours, and we never really saw them.

Gallipoli by Les Carlyon – Extract

9781743534229The earth abideth forever

Spring is coming to the Gallipoli Peninsula, so surely there is a pulse to it. The shepherd bends down, cups his hand under a new lamb, all clanging heart and spongy ribs, and tucks it under his arm. The lamb wears yellow smears of foetal fluid down its hind legs and a speckle of gore on its forehead. The mother stares up at the shepherd, half-trusting: he gave it back last time. The other ewes mill around the car, hoofs clicking like castanets on the bitumen. They are old and daggy and heavily in lamb, and they are trying to be skittish. The warm wind has set off something in their
heads. They smell the sappy grass in the culvert and blunder into a trot, trampling the bluebells in the roadside gravel. The shepherd owns a stick, too rough to be called a crook, and
three yellow dogs with pitiless eyes. He wears a woollen fez and a brocaded vest and grins through stubble. He appears to be straight from antiquity, doing what shepherds have been doing here for thousands of years. So long as the Athenians weren’t fighting the Peloponnesians, that is, or the Ottomans the Venetians. And so long as the city-state at one end of the Dardanelles wasn’t scrapping with the Persian stronghold at the other end. Then you notice that the shepherd wears an earpiece that leads to a transistor radio in his shirt pocket and that his lunch of bread and olives is flopping about in a supermarket bag tucked through his belt.

Doesn’t matter. Antiquity – or timelessness, its near-relation – is easy to find here. You stand at the foot of the Kilitbahir massif, layer upon layer of wavy sandstone known to the locals as the
place of gigantic ghosts’, and stare across the water to the Asianshore of the Dardanelles. This is where the British-French battle fleet ran into a minefield in 1915 and limped off determined not to fight another day if it could possibly get out of it. This is also close to where, 3000 years earlier, the ships of the Achaean Greeks arrived for the Trojan War. There are no skyscrapers, no petrochemical
plants or corporate signs. History’s stadium is much as it was. You are seeing pretty much what Alexander the Great saw. Close your eyes and you can see St Paul trudging behind a caravan
and wondering whether the villagers up ahead will want to pelt him with stones or fete him. Everyone came to the Dardanelles, but only to get somewhere else. In 1915 the British and French were
going to Constantinople. This was to be a stopover.

The tortoises are out grazing today, poking their heads from under black-and-khaki helmets, as though they have been outfitted by an army surplus store and are shy about their new clothes. A dolphin performs languid arcs beneath the castle on Kilitbahir harbour and sardines boil in the creek at Kum Tepe. A fisherman pulls on a wetsuit and begins to herd fish into the net he has set off the Anzac battlefield. Purple irises are poking through in the cemeteries and the wild pear trees wear white blossom. The Judas trees among the headstones at Shrapnel Gully are a blaze of pink and purple, so gorgeous that no betrayer of a messiah would consider hanging himself from a lesser tree. A hawk glides in the fairy blue sky over Anzac, surveying the great boneyard for signs of life.

Anzac was never farmed like the rest of the peninsula. General Otto Liman von Sanders, the German who commanded the Turkish land forces during the Gallipoli campaign, called this coast a ‘waste landscape’. Here is a tangle of gullies and ridges that is eroding away, bleeding its yellow sludge into the Aegean every time the rains come. All that blood and bone from 1915, and still this place refuses to bloom. As an Australian soldier wrote home in 1915, it wouldn’t feed a bandicoot. At the other battlefields on the peninsula, on the plains of Helles to the south and Suvla to the north, poppies appear like blood clots in fields of bright green wheat. Farmers work the stubble with chisel ploughs, their tractors rocking and throbbing like tramp steamers in a swell. Behind the plough you still pick up the flotsam of war. A brown-and-beige shard from an English rum jar. A curling piece of shrapnel, splintery and rusty and leaden in your hand. A tobacco tin that disintegrates as you force the hinges and falls through your hand like dust.

The tomatoes are going in on the red-brown dirt of the Suvla plain. Everyone is out in the fields, as if to celebrate the land coming alive again. Old men lean on whatever is handy and occasionally lift something heavy; mostly they give advice. Women in great bloomers of trousers tamp in the seedlings. Young men unravel the black irrigation pipes that lead to the pump on the well. At dusk the family clambers on to the trailer behind the tractor and goes home exhausted, except the old men. They light cigarettes and explain how things might have been done better.

No-one, neither locals nor tourists, much visits the cemeteries of Suvla. Anzac and Helles, though defeats for the British and French empires, are thought to have honour and the hint of romance.
Suvla is untrodden; the cemeteries seem to say ‘Lest we remember’. Suvla is for tomatoes and wheat and peppers. And goats, large herds of them, a black-and-tan breed from the Greek islands. They browse the ridges, a bite here, a bite there, all the time going forward,
their neck-bells tinkling. This land has been farmed and fought over for 5000 years that we know of. Along the coasts are the ruins – sometimes nothing more than a litter of broken tiles or a burial mound – of fabled cities: Troy and Dardanos on the Asian side of the Dardanelles,
Elaeus down at Cape Helles, Sestos and Abydos up near Nagara Point. Australian sappers in 1915 came on pottery and other artefacts while tunnelling towards the Turkish trenches at Lone Pine. French soldiers at Morto Bay dug into a graveyard thought to be 3400 years old; the corpses were in jars. Some of the Frenchmen tried to protect the relics and were killed – by artillery fire from
near Troy. The warriors come and go but the rhythms of the land are eternal.

The caravans from the east once came to Canakkale, the largest town in these parts, on the Asian side of the Narrows. The shores of the Dardanelles are only 1400 yards apart here. Pilgrims came on their way to Jerusalem or Mecca. Canakkale was the cockpit of the world; here, Westerners liked to think, European virtue met Asian vice. In old ~anakkale, home to 16,000 people in 1915, the houses were of wood or sun-dried bricks and minarets towered over all. Muslims lived near the docks, gypsies behind the castle guarding the Narrows, Jews along what is now the main street and Greeks behind the waterfront north of the docks. Over on the peninsula, Maidos (now Eceabat) and Krithia (now Al~itepe) were Greek villages, as was Kum Kale, at the entrance to the Dardanelles on the Asian side. Gallipoli, the English word for this place, is derived from a Greek word meaning
‘fair city’. Canakkale is now a university town of 62,000 people. Apartment blocks of white concrete rise behind the sweep of the esplanade. The old part of Istanbul (which the British called Constantinople in 1915) is still Byzantine and dark and teeming with street vendors, all of whom have relations in Sydney and Melbourne and, should you be foolish enough to confess that you come from there, Dubbo as well. Canakkale is Mediterranean and sunny, too relaxed to be on the make.

Fish are for sale in panniers on the docks; they flop and send up frantic bubbles and skinny cats with the hearts of thieves crouch near a bollard, waiting for someone to get careless. Across the esplanade, youths are playing basketball and ponies hitched to gypsy carts nuzzle into feedbags tied with twine behind their ears. The corn vendor leans over his griddle with a cigarette hanging from his mouth and a boy hurries past with sesame rings on a tray on his head. The locals stroll along the esplanade, day and night, hot or cold. The view is too lovely to hurry.

The water is never the same: blood-red, then pastel blue, then slate, then silver, then pink. It is sometimes all these colours at once, like the tail of a gigantic peacock, as someone once said. Most days you can see, across the water from Canakkale, the New Zealand memorial high on Chunuk Bair; sometimes Chunuk Bair hides in the mists like a mysterious and faraway country, which it
is. University students in jeans and Nike tops go hand in hand along the esplanade, giggling into mobile phones; alongside them are women in veils and ankle-length gaberdine coats and whiskered men in woollen fezzes. That’s how it goes in Turkey: some think the spiritual capital is Mecca and others, mostly the young, lean towards Hollywood. As in 1915, the country doesn’t know whether it belongs in the East or the West. clocktower the Troy-Anzac Travel Agency looks across at the
Hotel Anzac. Down the street is the Aussie and Kiwi Restaurant; around the corner is Anzac House, which advertises that its tours are ‘hassle free’. In spring the peninsula tizzies itself up for the
annual invasion.

A few days before Anzac Day the crosses in the French cemetery at Morto Bay are sticky with black paint. There is something honest about them. They have the starkness of iron fencing stakes,
which is what they look to have been made from; you expect to see barbed wire twitched to them. With their rose beds and open spaces, the British cemeteries seem to be saying that war is sad but
ennobling; the French crosses say it is black and grubby. Graders and tip-trucks lumber over the Anzac and Helles battlefields. Walls are being patched, lawns watered, towers installed so that mobile phones will work. Bitumen is sprayed straight on to the gravel roads like paint. Matthew Taylor, a landscape architect from Sydney, is preparing the new site for the dawn service at North Beach. Several dozen Turkish labourers have not turned up for work today. No explanations;
they simply aren’t here. In the afternoon Taylor discovers why. They had to plant tomatoes. New ceremonial sites are interesting; tomatoes are the stuff of life.

THE DAWN SERVICE draws about 15,000 pilgrims: old men with their uncles’ medals jangling on sportscoats, Vietnam vets with medals pinned on yellow rugby guernseys, backpackers lumping bedrolls, 20-year-olds with Australian flags draped over their shoulders, school kids on trips, matrons from Sydney’s North Shore. Around 3 am the mood is like a sports stadium before the teams run out:
whistles, catcalls, skylarking, half-hearted Mexican waves, a turmoil of emotions looking for an outlet. The Australians murder a few slabs of beer and the New Zealanders murder a few vowels. In
the coldest hour of all, just before dawn, the mood becomes serene, just the odd murmur behind the flames from hundreds of candles. What this beach symbolises to the crowd is beyond reason and
probably beyond knowing. Jean Cocteau, the French writer who drove an ambulance in World War I- what did he say? ‘What is history after all? History is facts that become lies in the end;
legends are lies which become history in the end.’ This is far from being Australia’s costliest battlefield. In 1916 two battles at Fromelles and Pozieres produced roughly the same number of Australian casualties- around 28,000- as the eight months of the Gallipoli conflict. Three times as many British and French troops died here as did Australians and New Zealanders.Gallipoli was a defeat, not at all like the triumph of the Light Horse in Palestine, yet no-one lights candles as dusk falls at Beersheba on the night of October 31. Good and evil did not meet onthe field here. Gallipoli was about strategy, not ideology. Gallipoli did not threaten Australia as did the fall of Singapore in 1942. As a battle, Gallipoli did not change the world as Stalingrad did. Gallipoli was all about the British empire, which is as dead as Rudyard Kipling and just as quaint, and a world where the test of manhood and of a nation’s right to exist was thought to be on the battlefield. This is Australia’s largest memorial, and it isn’t even in Australia. And another curious thing: the Australians and New Zealanders who died here were, in truth, fighting for Nicholas II, last Tsar of Russia. He had been promised Constantinople. 

None of this matters. The siren-call of this beach has little to do with facts or common sense or the desiccated footnotes of academics. It is rooted in myth and nostalgia – and imagining. Everyone who comes here tries to paint pictures on the empty landscape, to bring it back the way it was. Dugouts and tents and piles of stores. Woolly clouds of shrapnel. Battleships rocking and half-hidden behind mustard clouds as they bombard the hills. Lighters hovering around frail-looking piers and, behind one of these piers, a post office and a telephone exchange. A biplane droning overhead. A mule squealing and trying to buck off its load. Troops swimming to drown their lice. The crackle of rifle fire up on the escarpment. The music of a smithy’s hammer. The smell of upturned earth and open latrines and pipe tobacco and creosol and cordite. The smell of corpses, the ripeness of death in your nostrils all day and all night. The hollow pop of rifle shells being ejected, like no other sound there is. The wind blowing pages from the Bulletin and the Ballarat Courier into the Turkish trenches. Bayonets bobbing above the Turkish parapets, the occasional glimpse of an Ottoman soldier in a cloth helmet. Bundles that were once men, arms and legs at grotesque angles, lying out in no-man’s land. Men hefting water up the ridges. Men stumbling down the ridges, bloodied and befuddled, heading for the beach, following the same instinct that tells a wounded animal to go home. Flies. Flies everywhere. Blue flies, green flies, black flies. And the scent of thyme.

And how did the Anzac soldier look? Lean and laconic, as he is supposed to be, wearing torn shorts and a cheeky grin as he brews tea, everything about him saying that war is just another hindrance and will you take a squiz at the Pommie joker over there with the monocle. Or was he scared and bewildered and wasted by dysentery, as he isn’t supposed to be, because these things don’t sit too well with mythology? Anyway, we shouldn’t be too scornful of mythology. Where would religion be without it? And this part of the peninsula is rather like Golgotha, a place of skulls, quiet now but loaded up with old agonies.

What were these Australians doing here? They had joined up to fight Germans in France and Belgium, and here they were lost in antiquity, in this place some of them had never heard of until a few weeks before they landed. We know what they wrote in their letters and diaries. But what did they really think? Imaginings. Young Australians come here for one, maybe two, days in the European spring and wander these hills trying to discover their past, to unearth truths about an Australian nation, white and rustic and British, that no longer exists and is not coming back. Gallipoli, as a wise man once said, is a country of the mind. Everyone who comes here sees the story the way they want to see it.

TINY WAVES CARESS the shore an hour before dawn. A flash of phosphorescence,
the rattle of shingle, then silence. A shooting star cascades through the night and the moon begins to slide down behind the Sphinx, the jagged spur, fluted and sharp like a rotten tooth, that dominates this part of the beach. The master of ceremonies tells the crowd the service is being broadcast live on television to Australia. ‘Hi, mum,’ a girl shouts. Australians and New Zealanders swarm over the Anzac battlefield as soon as the service ends. Black figures are silhouetted on the skyline of Walker’s Ridge, clambering upward, as though there is still some need to get inland before the sun is properly up. Near Shell Green cemetery a retired Australian army officer points in the direction of Bolton’s Ridge and says, half to himself: ‘Now if we’d landed over there, where we were bloody well supposed to … ‘ A 25-year-old Turkish schoolteacher smiles at him and says in English:
‘You Australians never learn.’ Here is one of the peculiar things about the Anzac tradition, or myth or legend or whatever it is. The Australians and the Turks, the enemies of 1915 who didn’t much bother about taking prisoners in the first weeks of the campaign, have ended up friends. They laugh with
each other easily and share a dry sense of humour. Their war, they feel, had honour; there is no incident that festers, no Burma-Thailand railway, no Babi-Yar, hardly a dead civilian. It was a soldiers’ war.

The service at Lone Pine cemetery, on the ground where Australians won seven Victoria Crosses, begins in bright sunshine at 9 am. The dawn service was subdued and respectful; this one has an air of triumph, as though this is really Australian ground and everyone can behave as they would back home. Australians stand shoulder to shoulder on three of the four walls. The cemetery lawn is like an island rookery in spring: teeming with life, territorial plots marked out by rucksacks and tracksuit tops. Backpackers who have been up all night fall asleep among the graves. One sleeps through the Turkish national anthem but lurches to her feet, as if by instinct, when the first few bars of Advance Australia Fair ring out. A couple from the Hunter Valley stands with an air of proprietorship at the grave of Private Oliver Cumberland, from Scone, New South Wales. They know his family and have brought a red rose.

Next Day the pilgrims have gone. It rained overnight, just as on the first night at Anzac Cove 85 years ago. The ground is greasy, dull brown rather than orange-yellow, and the leaves of the dwarf oak are glossy and beaded with tears. The Aegean is a sheet of pale-blue glass and the rain has dissolved the haze. You can see the yellow streaks of beaches on the island of Imbros, from where General Sir Ian Hamilton directed the campaign and began his long journey down the Via Dolorosa. For the first time in three weeks you can see Samothrace, home of Poseidon, god of the sea and of horses. Samothrace looks like a mountain peak exploding out of the Aegean, which it is. It also looks like a proper home for a god: a corona of mist swirls just below the summit. After its one wild day of the year Anzac has reverted to type. Hawks ride the currents. A shepherd near a village behind the battlefield holds up his flock while an old ewe stares at her flanks, then finally lies down and starts to lamb. The tomato seedlings are standing up erect and bright today. Politicians and pilgrims come and go but the earth abideth forever. The wind keens and burns your face.

The Great Zoo of China by Matthew Reilly – Extract

9781743517017[American zoos] are visited each year by more than a hundred million people, a number that exceeds the combined attendance of all big league baseball, football and basketball games.

—National Geographic

Here, there be dragons.

—Warning written on ancient maps to define an unknown region




From: Fischer, Adam

China vs the World

(Macmillan, New York, 2013)


China and the Power of Disneyland

It is difficult to describe just how dynamic modern China is.

It is setting records that no other country can match: it builds a new city every year, its economy is growing at rates the West can only dream about, and its burgeoning middle class grows wealthier by the month, demanding all of the products that China used to manufacture for Western consumers.

And at every opportunity the Communist Party proudly reports these achievements to the Chinese people through state-controlled media.

But there is a problem.

China desperately wants to be Number One, the pre-eminent nation on Earth. In the Communist Party this passionate desire even has a name: the ‘China Dream’.

But to achieve that dream, China must seize the position currently occupied by the United States of America, and to do that it must first match America’s twentieth-century achievements in war, in space and in industry: it must build a powerful military, it must land a man on the moon and it must create companies that are known worldwide.

And then— then— to truly replace America as the world’s most dominant nation, it must do something even more difficult.

China must replace the United States as the cultural ruler of the planet.

How America came to dominate global culture is nothing short of astonishing.

After defeating the Axis powers in the Second World War with its military and industrial might, the United States then set about waging and winning a far more subtle war against the whole world: a war of cultural superiority.

This war was not fought with guns or tanks. It was fought with movies and music, Coke and Pepsi, Fords and Cadillacs, and, of course, arguably America’s greatest weapon in soft diplomacy: Disneyland.

Put simply, American culture became the world’s culture—drive-in burger joints of the 50s, Easy Rider in the 60s, platform shoes in the 70s, Coca-Cola ads in the 80s.

Hollywood played a big part in this, helped along later by MTV. Thanks to hundreds of American movies, TV shows and music videos set in America, the names of American cities, towns, roads and products became known worldwide: New York, Vegas, Fargo, Key Largo; Route 66; Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Bugs Bunny; DeLorean, Nike, American Express.

Apart from Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, can you name another Chinese city? Can you name a Chinese brand of sport shoe?

What, I ask you, apart from the panda bear and a very long wall, is singularly and uniquely Chinese?

And here lies China’s biggest problem in the twenty-first century.

It has nothing truly its own.

It makes other people’s stuff. Every Apple product is a slap in the face to China when it declares: Designed by Apple in California. Assembled in China. A limitless supply of cheap labour might build you a new city every year, but it ultimately just makes you the factory floor for other countries’ companies.

China wants to rule the world. But without the soft diplomacy of culture, China will always play second fiddle to the United States.

Where is China’s Ford?

Where is its Coca-Cola?

Where, I ask you, is China’s Disneyland?



Guangdong Province, China

16 February

Breathless, bleeding and covered in sweat, Bill Lynch dropped into the mouth of the cave and crab-crawled further into it as quickly as he could.

He snatched his cell phone from his trouser pocket.

no signal. sos only.

‘Fuck,’ he said to no-one. The bastards had jammed the entire valley.

Voices from outside made him spin. They spoke in Mandarin.

‘— went this way—’

‘— into that cave on the cliff-face—’

Lynch heard the safeties on their assault rifles click off.

Beyond the mouth of the cave, Bill Lynch saw a jaw-dropping view: a broad valley featuring lakes, rivers and waterfalls. In the middle of it all, shrouded by the hazy air common to southern

China, was a huge central mountain that stabbed the sky.

Dramatic landscapes like these had rightfully made the nearby region of Guilin famous. Soon, Lynch thought, this copy of the Guilin landscape—and it was a copy; it was nearly all man-made—would be more famous than any other place on Earth. And by the look of things, Dr Bill Lynch—senior herpetologist from the University of Florida’s Division of Herpetology—was not going to live to see it. Right then, the smell of the cave struck him. Lynch screwed up his nose at the stench, the rank odour of rotting flesh.

The smell of the lair of a carnivore. Alarmed, he spun to search his newfound hiding place for its owner. But the cave was empty . . . except for the flesh-stripped skeletons of three large animals. They looked like the skeletons of horses—yes, horses, up in this cave three hundred feet above the valley floor. Their elongated skulls were tilted backwards in frozen shrieks of terror. Their bloody ribs pointed skyward. Holy shit, Lynch thought. He knew the creature that lived here. The cave delved into the cliff, and although it looked like a naturally formed cavern, it was not natural. It had been constructed to look that way. Indeed, carved into the otherwise natural-looking floor was a brass plate with an ID code etched into it: e-39.

‘Dr Lynch!’ a voice called from outside in English.

Lynch recognised the voice and its Chinese accent. It belonged to Colonel Bao, the head of security at the zoo and a bona-fide asshole. ‘Dr Lynch, we can make this quick and easy for you, or we can make it very painful. Please come out of there so we may do this the easy way.’

‘Fuck you!’

‘Dr Lynch. This facility cannot be allowed to fail just because of an unfortunate incident.’

Lynch stepped deeper into the cave as he spoke:

‘Unfortunate incident?! Nineteen people are dead, Colonel!’

‘Over twenty men died during the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, Dr Lynch. Does anyone regret that? No, all anyone sees is a marvel of its time, a great achievement in human ingenuity. So it will be here. This place will be beyond great. It will be the envy of the entire world.’

Lynch strode further into the cave. After a dozen steps, he stopped abruptly. It was a dead end.
There came a sudden beep! from his wrist and he looked down to see the green pilot light on his watch wink out. Lynch’s blood went cold. They’d deactivated his sonic shield. Now he had no protection from the animals. Lynch suddenly realised what Bao had meant when he’d said this could be done the easy way or the hard way.

‘You can’t kill every witness, Bao!’ Lynch yelled.

‘Yes, we can,’ replied the voice. ‘And yes, we will. Fear not, Dr Lynch. Your death will be a noble one. We will announce it to the world as an awful accident, the result of a light plane crash. It will be such a shame to lose so many brilliant people in the one accident. Of course, our facility will need to find another reptile expert to do what you have failed to do. I was thinking of your protégée, the young Dr Cameron.’

Bill Lynch yelled, ‘You bastard! Let me give you some free advice. Don’t mess with CJ Cameron.

She’s tougher than I ever was.’

‘I’ll be sure to remember that.’

‘And another thing, Bao. You’re a fucking psychopath.’ There was no reply.

The Chinese soldiers were probably getting ready to storm the cave. Lynch turned away, searching for something he could use as a weapon. As he did so, behind his back, a large reptilian head at the end of a long serpentine neck curved in through the entrance to the cave and stared directly at him. It made no sound. Lynch snapped a rib off one of the horse skeletons and turned— The animal now stood in the mouth of the cave. Its fearsome silhouette completely filled the cave’s entrance, blocking out the light. It was a prince, Lynch saw, nine feet tall, wingspan twenty feet. A red-bellied black. The great beast peered at him as if surprised to find an intruder in its lair. Its stance was powerful. In the dim light, Lynch could make out its sinewy shoulders and razor-sharp claws. Its wings were folded behind its body. Its long barbed tail slunk back and forth with cool calculation. But the head didn’t move. It was eerily still. In silhouette, the creature’s high pointed ears looked like demonic horns. The giant reptile took a step forward. It bent its head low, sniffing the ground. Then, very slowly, it opened its mouth, revealing two rows of long jagged teeth. It growled. A deep angry sound. Lynch felt his heart beat faster and in a deep analytical part of his brain, he realised that the animal could sense this. He also now realised why Bao had stopped talking from outside. The Chinese colonel and his men had seen this thing coming and had wisely got out of the way.

Bill Lynch had no time for another thought for just then the massive thing roared and rushed at him, and within seconds Lynch was lying on the floor of the cavern, screaming desperately and spitting blood as he was foully eaten alive.

First Evolution

The Unknown Destination 

The myth of the dragon is a very peculiar one, precisely because it is a truly global myth.

Giant serpents appear in mythologies from all over the world: China, Scandinavia, Greece, Persia, Germany, Central America, the United Kingdom, even Africa.

There is no discernible reason for this. How could the myth of a large serpentine creature be so consistent across the ancient world?

—Eleanor Lock, Dragons in History (Border press, London, 1999)

Hong Kong, China

17 March

One Month Later

The sleek private jet shot through the sky above the South China Sea, carrying two passengers who had never flown in a private jet before: CJ Cameron and her brother, Hamish.

The plane was a Bombardier Global 8000, the most expensive private aircraft in the world, the jet of choice for Saudi princes and Russian billionaires. This Bombardier, however, did not belong to any individual. It belonged to the Chinese government. Dr Cassandra Jane ‘CJ’ Cameron peered out her window as the plane landed at Hong Kong International Airport, an ultra-modern facility that had been constructed on an enor-mous man-made island.

‘Is there anything China can’t build?’ CJ said, gazing out her window.

‘I heard they built some wholly fake Apple Stores,’

Hamish said. ‘Did you read about that? It wasn’t just a few counterfeit iPhones, they were whole frigging stores. They even had Genius Bars. All the employees thought they really were working for Apple!’

CJ threw a sideways glance at her brother. ‘Wise ass.’

A black Maybach limousine was waiting for them at the base of the jet’s airstairs. Standing beside it was a pretty young Chinese woman dressed in a perfectly pressed navy skirt-suit. Not a hair on her head was out of place. She had a Bluetooth earpiece in her ear that looked to CJ like it lived there permanently. When she spoke, her English was flawless.

‘Dr Cameron, Mr Cameron, welcome to China,’ she said.

‘My name is Na and I will be your escort during your stay here. Should you require anything—anything at all—please don’t hesitate to ask. Nothing is too much trouble.’

Na ushered them into the Maybach, which whisked them out a side gate. No Customs and Immigration. The limo then took them to the Four Seasons where they were put up in penthouse suites, all expenses paid. The next morning, they were told, they would be picked up at 9:00 a.m. sharp. This was all very unusual for CJ Cameron. Once a renowned herpetologist—a reptile expert—these days CJ worked as a vet at the San Francisco Zoo.

At thirty-six, she was a petite five foot six, with piercing amber eyes and shoulder-length blonde hair. CJ was fit, athletic, and pretty in a sporty kind of way. Men often approached her, only to turn away abruptly when they came close enough to see the grisly scars that dominated the left side of her face. The scars stretched all the way from her left eye to the corner of her mouth, looking like a sequence of poorly aligned Xs. The ophthalmic surgeon had saved her eyesight. And the plastic surgeon, one of the best in America, had managed to reconstruct her jaw, but the slashing wounds to her left cheek had proved to be too much even for him.

CJ didn’t care. For vapid men or for herpetology, not after the incident. All her life she had been something of a tomboy anyway. She didn’t bother with make-up and she didn’t mind getting her hands dirty. She lived outdoors: hiking, camping, horse riding. A keen horsewoman, she sometimes preferred the company of horses to people.

Once upon a time, she’d been a star lecturer at the University of Florida’s Division of Herpetology, widely regarded as the best reptile faculty in America. Specialising in alligator research, she’d worked mainly at the university’s field site in the Everglades. But not anymore.

In addition to her doctorate in herpetology, she was also a trained veterinarian, and now she worked as far from alligators as possible, tending to sick and injured animals in the clinic at the San Francisco Zoo. Which was why she’d been surprised when her old boss from National Geographic, Don Grover, had called and asked if she’d go to China to write a piece on some big new zoo.

‘No thanks,’ CJ had said.

‘It’s all expenses paid. Private jet. Swanky hotel.’

‘That sort of thing doesn’t impress me, Don.’

‘The Chinese asked specifically for you.’

That stopped her.


‘They’ve read your stuff. Done their homework. They mentioned the pieces you did for Nature on the hunting behaviour of saltwater crocodiles and the Nat Geo docu-mentary you did with Bill Lynch on alligator vocalisations. The Chinese asked for Lynch to go over there and write a piece on this zoo, but then he died in that plane crash. Now they want you.’ CJ had been saddened by the news of Bill’s death. He had taught her everything she knew and had begged her not to leave the university after the incident.

‘They also know you speak Mandarin,’ Grover said.

‘Which is a big plus.’

That had been CJ’s father’s idea. When she and Hamish had been little, their father, a humble insurance salesman with an insatiable curiosity and a penchant for dragging his two children away on unbearable camping trips, had insisted on them taking Mandarin lessons: ‘The future of the world is China, kids,’ he’d said, ‘so you should learn their language.’ It had been good advice. Their dad wasn’t rich or famous, but he’d been ahead of his time on that one. As for the camping trips, he would always dismiss their whining complaints with the cheerful phrase, ‘Hey, it’s character building.’

‘Photos, too?’ CJ had asked Grover.

‘It’s a full feature spread, kid. Come on, do it for me. The Chinese government is gonna pay me a king’s ransom for this. It’ll cover my bills for five years, and your fee will pay yours for ten.’

‘I want to bring my own photographer,’ CJ said flatly.



‘Goddamn it, CJ. So long as I don’t have to bail him out of jail for deflowering some senior minister’s daughter—’

‘Deal breaker, Don.’

‘Okay, okay. You can take your stupid brother. Can I call the Chinese back and say you’re in?’

‘All right. I’m in.’

And so, a week later, CJ and her brother had boarded the private jet bound for China.

At nine o’clock the next morning, CJ and Hamish arrived in the lobby of the hotel to find Na and the Maybach waiting for them in the turnaround. Na was again dressed in her perfect navy skirt-suit and wearing the Bluetooth earpiece in her ear.

CJ wore her standard field clothes: hiking boots, tan cargo pants, black San Francisco Giants T-shirt and a battered brown leather jacket. Around her neck she wore a leather strap, hanging from which was a three-inch-long saltwater crocodile tooth: a gift from Bill Lynch. She wore her hair tied back in a careless ponytail. After all, they were just visiting a zoo.

She and Hamish slid into the back seat of the Maybach, their destination: a military airbase twenty miles inland. While CJ was immune to the charms of expensive hospitality, Hamish wasn’t. Sitting in the back of the limo, he munched on not one but two packets of potato chips.

‘How cool is this, Chipmunk?’ he grinned. ‘Free mini bar.’

‘There’s no such thing as a free lunch, Hamish.’

‘But there are such things as free plane rides, free penthouse suites in six-star hotels and’—a surreptitious glance at Na up in the front of the limo—‘free bathroom products.’

CJ rolled her eyes. ‘You didn’t steal the hotel shampoo?’

‘And the conditioner.’ Hamish wore his tattered multi-pocketed photojournalist’s vest over a Bob Dylan T-shirt. He lifted the flap on one pocket to reveal four hotel-sized shampoo and conditioner bottles. ‘It’s Molton Brown. That’s top shelf.’

‘Why do you need shampoo? You hardly bathe anyway.’

‘I bathe.’ Hamish sniffed his underarms.

‘You’re an idiot.’

‘No. I’m awesome.’ Hamish settled into the seat beside her and resumed munching his chips.

They couldn’t have been more different, CJ and Hamish, in size and in personality. The Bear and the Chipmunk, that’s what their mother had called them. It suited. Four years younger than CJ and a towering six foot three inches tall, Hamish was large in every way: a photographer and videographer who had done tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, he lived large, partied hard, drank a bit too much and was always getting into trouble. He even had oversized features: a big face, square jaw, huge blue eyes and a great booming voice. He rarely shaved. He wore a red rubber WristStrong bracelet on his right wrist intertwined with a couple of hemp surfer wristbands.

CJ, on the other hand, had always been the good girl: quiet, mature, unobtrusive and very academic. Having a near-photographic, or eidetic, memory helped with that.

While Hamish went to war zones and parties, she’d worked away at the university, penning papers on her specialty, reptilian behaviour, specifically that of crocodiles and alligators. Among other things, it was CJ who had quan-tified the intelligence of big crocodilians, proving they were as smart as or even smarter than chimpanzees.

Other intelligent animals—like chimps, wolves and hyenas—might set simple traps. Crocodiles often set traps several days in advance. If a six-metre saltwater crocodile saw you coming down to a riverbank at 7:30 a.m. for four days in a row to check your lobster cages, on the fifth day it would wait at the water’s edge, just below the surface, and pounce when you arrived. Crocodiles had extraordinary patience and amazing memories. Their ability to spot routine was incredible: sometimes they would set up ambushes based on the weekly, even monthly routines of their prey.

CJ’s considerable professional success had not been reflected in her personal life. While Hamish had gone through a swathe of girlfriends over the years, CJ had not had many serious boyfriends, just the one in fact, Troy, and that had ended badly: immediately after the incident that had destroyed her face. Only Hamish had stayed by her side, her ever-loyal brother.

‘Is everything okay back there?’ Na said from the passenger seat up front.

‘We’re fine,’ CJ said, glancing at her brother’s stolen hair care products.

‘Remember, nothing is too much trouble,’ Na said as the limo turned off the main road and zoomed through the gates of the airbase without stopping. Clearly, Na had called ahead. ‘If you need anything, just ask.’

The Maybach drove out onto the runway, where CJ saw the Bombardier from the previous day waiting for them, its airstairs folded open. Only today, CJ noticed, there was something different about the private jet. All its windows had been blacked out. CJ stepped warily up the airstairs.

‘Why black out the windows?’ she whispered to


‘I have no idea,’ Hamish said, equally concerned. He carried his Canon EOS 5D digital SLR camera slung over his shoulder.

Arriving in the plush main cabin of the jet, CJ stopped, surprised. Already seated there were two Americans, both men, one of whom was in the process of being interviewed by a Chinese television crew. CJ paused in the doorway, not wanting to interrupt.

She had always been a good observer, a close watcher of things. It came, she guessed, from observing predators in the wild—you didn’t settle in to watch a croc or a gator without first assessing the surrounding area for other predators. Whether she was in a shopping mall, a meeting or here in a private jet, CJ’s eyes always swept the area for important details—and with her memory, she remembered everything. She saw many details here.

A sticker on the television camera read CCTV: that was the Chinese state television network. The cameraman’s jacket was a cheap Lacoste rip-off, common in China. The female TV reporter looked like a stewardess on an aeroplane: crisp brown skirt-suit with the same CCTV logo on the breast pocket. The American being interviewed—and he seemed quite comfortable being the centre of attention—was a big-bellied man of about fifty with a carefully trimmed grey beard that had clearly been grown in an attempt to conceal his wobbly jowls, the jowls of a man who had enjoyed many long lunches.

‘That’s Seymour Wolfe,’ Na whispered reverently to CJ,‘from The New York Times.’

Na needn’t have singled him out. CJ knew who he was. Everyone knew who Seymour Wolfe was. He was not just a columnist at the Times, he was the columnist , the paper’s most well-known and influential op-ed writer. After a few successful books on twenty-first-century global affairs, he was regarded as the man who informed America about the world. He also, CJ saw, appeared entirely untroubled to be travelling in a jet with blacked-out windows. CJ heard snippets of what Wolfe was saying:

‘—I was here for the Beijing Olympics in 2008. What a spectacle! Things move so fast here. If the government wants a new high-speed train built, it is built. If it wants a new city, then a new city is built. It is just so dynamic—’

‘—China is the future and the rest of the world had better get used to it. One in five people on this planet is Chinese—’

The CCTV reporter smiled broadly, almost fawning as she asked, ‘Are you excited about what you are going to see today?’

Wolfe leaned back and smiled. ‘I’m not sure what to think, as I don’t yet know exactly what I am going to see. If China has re-imagined the concept of the zoo, then I am curious to see what she has done. I cannot imagine it will be small. I am . . . how shall I put this . . . officially intrigued.’

The interview concluded and CJ and Hamish were ushered inside the jet. Na introduced them to Wolfe, before indicating the other, much younger man travelling with him. ‘And this is Mr Aaron Perry, also from The New York Times, from their e-news division.’

Aaron Perry was about thirty and he had spiky black hair that had been carefully moulded into position with large amounts of gel. He wore serious thick-framed glasses, a designer suit and the attitude of someone who knew more than you did. He slouched in his seat. CJ hadn’t heard of him, but evidently Hamish had.

‘You’re the Twitter guy!’ Hamish boomed. ‘I love your shit, dude. Forget the paper, I get all my news from your Twitter feed.’

‘Thank you.’ Perry smiled wanly, apparently too cool to accept praise. He held up a small Samsung phone. ‘My office. Although not today.’

‘Why not?’ CJ asked.

Na answered. ‘Our destination is a secure facility. It is covered by an electronic scrambling system. No cell phone signals in or out.’

‘And the blacked-out windows?’ Hamish asked. ‘You don’t want us to see where we’re going?’

‘Please forgive us, but the location of our zoo is a closely guarded secret, at least for now,’ Na said. ‘Not only must cell phone tracking systems be disabled, but even visual references. You will understand why when we get there. I am very sorry.’

The blacked-out Bombardier didn’t take off immediately. Apparently, it was still waiting for two final passengers. As the plane waited, the Chinese TV reporter approached CJ.

‘Dr Cameron?’ she asked. ‘Dr Cassandra Cameron from the San Francisco Zoo? I am Xin Xili, China Central Television. Would you mind if I interviewed you?’

‘Sure,’ CJ said.

The reporter gave CJ a quick up-and-down, her gaze pausing for the briefest of moments on the scars on CJ’s left cheek. It was not exactly a pleasant evaluation. When the interview began, the fawning smiles of her interview with Wolfe vanished.

‘You are an expert in reptiles, are you not, Dr Cameron?’ Xin asked quickly.

‘I am.’

‘One of the world’s leading experts in large reptiles: the Nile crocodile, the Australian saltwater crocodile, the American and Chinese alligators.’

‘That’s correct,’ CJ replied.

‘Not for much longer,’ Xin said curtly.

She then signalled for the cameraman to stop recording, smiled tightly at CJ and turned away. CJ watched her go, perplexed. Just then, another private jet pulled up alongside the Bombardier, a smaller and much older Gulfstream. Looking out the open door, CJ saw that it had an American flag painted on its side plus the words: united states diplomatic service. Two men in suits emerged from the Gulfstream and walked over to the Bombardier. The taller and older of the two—he wore a perfect grey suit, had perfect silver hair, a perfect tennis tan and perfect teeth—swept into the jet as if he owned it. He smiled broadly at everyone, the practised smile of a professional politician.

‘So sorry to keep you waitin’, folks,’ he said with a distinctly Texan drawl. CJ noticed he was wearing expensive cowboy boots.‘I’m Kirk Syme, US Ambassador to China. Just flew down from Beijing. Got caught on the phone to the President. You know how it is when the boss is on the line. You gotta take the call.’ He indicated his offsider. ‘This is Greg Johnson, my chief aide from the embassy in Beijing.’

Johnson was a younger and more compact version of Syme: about forty, with close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair and sharp dark eyes. He carried himself in an odd way, CJ thought, tensed, hunched, like an athlete who seemed uncomfortable wearing a suit. He did not, she saw, wear cowboy boots like his boss, just regular brogues. With everyone present and accounted for, the Bombardier’s airstairs folded up and the plane taxied down the runway.

CJ still felt a little unnerved sitting inside the blacked-out plane. It was claustrophobic and, well, kind of weird. It was a very trusting thing to do, to allow yourself to be flown to an unknown destination. But then, she told herself, she was travelling with some serious VIPs—the US Ambassador to China and two high-profile New York Times journalists— and they seemed perfectly fine with the arrangement.

The Bombardier took off, heading to God-only-knew-where. The Bombardier flew for about two hours.

We could be anywhere in southeast Asia, CJ thought.

Thanks to the blacked-out windows, she didn’t know if they had flown in a straight line or in circles. The Chinese were very keen to keep the location of their new zoo secret.

When it finally landed, the Bombardier taxied for a few minutes before coming to a halt at an airbridge. The six American guests disembarked to find themselves standing inside a brand-new airport terminal. The walls and floors gleamed. None of the many shops was open but they looked ready to go. The entire terminal, built to handle the move-ment of thousands of people, was eerily empty. High floor-to-ceiling windows revealed the landscape outside: spectacular mountains and moss-covered limestone buttes.

‘Ah-ha, we are still in southern China,’ Seymour Wolfe said. ‘If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say we are in the north of Guangdong province.’

Na nodded and smiled.

As she guided them all through the empty airport, Wolfe said, ‘This area is famous for these incredible landforms. Towering pinnacles and mossy buttes. There’s a well-known crater out here not unlike Meteor Crater in Arizona: it’s not as big as Meteor Crater, but it’s beautiful, perfectly circular, and over the eons it has filled with water, so it’s called Crater Lake.’

Na said, ‘That is correct, Mr Wolfe. Crater Lake was created by a nickel meteorite that hit here about 300 million years ago.’

Wolfe said, ‘Make no mistake, people, with its natural wonders and its industrial centres, southern China is a commercial juggernaut, the engine room of the entire country. The two mega-cities of this area, Guangzhou and Dongguan, are home to 60 million people. But fly a short way inland and the cities vanish and you essentially travel back in time to landscapes like this. Out here, you’ll find only small communities of rice farmers.’

Three Chinese officials were waiting for them near the exit. They were all men. The first was dressed in a bright red blazer with a yellow tie. He had slicked-down hair and a pencil moustache and Na introduced him as Zhang, the deputy director of the zoo. CJ noted that he had a peculiar nervous tic: he kept smoothing his tie, as if it had a crease he couldn’t flatten out.

The second man wore a military uniform. The stars on his shoulders indicated that he was a colonel. He had no nervous tics. He stood with the firm, feet-apart stance of a commander who was used to being obeyed.

Na introduced him as Colonel Bao, and when he shook CJ’s hand, he said in English, ‘Dr Cassandra Cameron? You are Dr Bill Lynch’s protégée, are you not? He actually visited our zoo. I was most saddened by his death.’

‘So was I,’ CJ said.

The last Chinese man was easily the youngest. He was a lean, handsome fellow of about forty-five. He wore a stylish navy suit and a dark tie: the standard attire of a Communist Party member. He also had one singular physical feature: just above his right eye, he had a sharply-defined patch of pure white hair on his otherwise black-haired head, a condition known as poliosis. CJ had known a few people in her life who’d had poliosis and they’d dyed the offending patch of snow-white hair, making it disappear. This man had not done that: in an otherwise entirely black-haired country, his white forelock made him distinctive and he was evidently quite happy about that.

‘Why, hello!’ he said brightly to them all in English. ‘I am Hu Tang.’

As Hu moved down the line of visitors, Seymour Wolfe whispered to CJ: ‘Don’t be fooled by his age. Mr Hu Tang is the most senior man here. Youngest ever member of the Politburo. He’s what they call a “princeling” of the Communist Party, a member of the Red Aristocracy, those Party members who trace their ancestry to great revolutionaries like Mao. Educated at Harvard, Hu Tang is part of the new wave. He supervised the construction of the Great Firewall of China, the system that censors the Internet here. Now he’s the head of the Department of Propaganda and a member of the all-powerful Standing Committee of the Politburo.’

‘They have a department of propaganda?’ Hamish said in disbelief. CJ ignored him. ‘The US Ambassador and a Chinese heavy hitter? What kind of zoo is this?’

‘I’m wondering the same thing,’ Wolfe replied.

Hu Tang spread his hands wide. ‘Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. Welcome to the most incredible place on Earth.’

A short walk to a beautiful—and also brand-new—glass-enclosed train station followed. It was a gigantic space with a curved glass-and-steel roof. Four state-of-the-art maglev trains were parked at parallel platforms underneath the high soaring roof. The bullet-shaped trains looked very fast and very, very powerful. A huge red sign above the space blazed in English and Mandarin:


Within a minute, CJ and her VIP party were aboard one of the trains and zooming through a tunnel at four hundred kilometres per hour, heading for the mysterious zoo.