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Blueback - Tim Winton

Paperback Published: December 2008
ISBN: 9780143304333
Number Of Pages: 168
For Ages: 6 - 12 years old

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Abel Jackson has lived by the sea at Longboat Bay ever since he could remember. He helps his mother each day and loves to dive. One day he meets Blueback, the biggest and most beautiful fish he's ever seen.

When Abel's mother is approached by developers she decides she must do something to protect their fragile piece of coastline, But can Abel and his mother save Blueback and Longboat Bay in time?

An achingly beautiful story about family, belonging and living a life in tune with the environment, from one of Australia's best-loved authors.

About the Author

Tim Winton has published twenty-one books for adults and children, and his work has been translated into twenty-five languages. Since his first novel, An Open Swimmer, won the Australian/Vogel Award in 1981, he has won the Miles Franklin Award four times (for Shallows, Cloudstreet, Dirt Music and Breath) and twice been shortlisted for the Booker Prize (for The Riders and Dirt Music).  He lives in Western Australia.

Just as the sun came up, Abel pulled on his wetsuit and ran down the jetty. Already his mother was in the dinghy with the outboard motor running. It was cold this morning and Abel was still half asleep. He got down into the boat, untied the bowline and pushed them clear. With a purr of the outboard they surged away.

In the bow, he looked around, slowly waking up in the cold rush of air. Sunlight caught the windows of the shack above the beach so that every pane of glass looked like a little fire. He watched his mother's hair blow back off her shoulders. She squinted a little. Her skin was tanned and wrinkled from the sun. He felt the sea pulsing under him as the little boat skimmed across the bay.

'Good morning, sleepyhead,' said his mother. 'Better get your gear out.'

He bent down to the plastic dive crate and pulled out his fins, snorkel and mask. He found his weightbelt and bag and screwdriver and laid them on the seat beside him.

After a while his mother steered them around the front of Robbers Head and cut the motor. The anchor went down into the dark, clear water and everything was quiet.

'Stay close today, okay?'

'Okay,' he said, pulling on his fins and rubbing spit into his mask so it wouldn't fog up under water.

His mother pitched over the side, her fins flashing upwards. The boat rocked a little and Abel pulled his mask on and followed her.

He fell back into the water with a cold crash. A cloud of bubbles swirled around him, clinging to his skin like pearls. Then he cleared his snorkel - phhht! - and rolled over to look down on the world underwater.

Great, round boulders and dark cracks loomed below. Tiny silver fish hung in nervous schools. Seaweed trembled in the gentle current. Orange starfish and yellow plates of coral glowed from the deepest slopes where his mother was already gliding like a bird.

Abel loved being underwater. He was ten years old and could never remember a time when he could not dive. His mother said he was a diver before he was born; he floated and swam in the warm ocean inside her for nine months, so maybe it came naturally. He liked to watch his mother cruise down into the deep in her patchy wetsuit. She looked like a scarred old seal in that thing. She was a beautiful swimmer, relaxed and strong. Everything he knew on land or under the sea he learned from her.

With a quick breath he followed her down. He clutched his bag and screwdriver and felt the pressure prick his ears. On the bottom his mother had found what they came for. Abalone. In a seam along the smooth granite rock, the shellfish grew round and silver like shiny hubcaps. They clamped tight to the rock and only a hefty screwdriver could budge them.

Abel saw the flash of his mother's screwdriver. She prised an abalone off the rock and a little puff of sediment rose around her. The muscle twitched in its shell. The meat was white with a green lip. His mother shoved it into her bag and moved along to pick out another.

Abel ran out of breath. He kicked back to the shining surface and hung there panting fresh air for a moment. His mother came gliding up with three abalone in her bag already. Her snorkel whooshed beside him. In a moment they dived again to work along the bottom, picking abalone and filling their bags. Up and down they went, hanging onto each breath, taking a couple of abalone from each clump, leaving the rest to breed and grow. Small fish came out of the weed and crevices to snaffle bits of meat and pick over the sediment they stirred up. Wrasse, sweep, scalyfins, blennies, foxfish and blue devils - all kinds of reef fish - darted about them in bursts of colour.

On the deepest dive, at his limit, Abel was almost at the end of his breath when he felt a rush in the water behind him. It felt like something big, like his mother passing. But at the corner of his eye he saw a blue shadow that blocked out the sun. He whirled around to see a huge mouth and an eye the size of a golfball coming at him. The mouth opened. He saw massive pegs of teeth as it came on in a terrible rush. Abel screamed in his snorkel and pushed hard off the bottom but the big blue shadow suddenly had him by the hand.

The abalone he was holding came tearing out of his fingers. Abel thought he was about to die. He felt pain shoot up his arm. A vast flat tail blurred across his body. And then it was gone.

Abel shot to the surface and burst into the fresh air with a shriek. He wheeled around, looking for danger, waiting for another rush from the lurking shadow. His whole body quaked and trembled. He looked at his hand; a tiny thread of blood curled into the water. It was only a scratch.

His mother came slowly upward with her bag full. She gave him the thumbs up.

'Get in the boat!' he shouted when she surfaced. 'There's something down there!'

She grabbed him by the arm and squeezed. 'It's okay, love.'

'Mum, it nearly got me!'

'Close call eh?' she said with a smile. 'Look it took skin off my fingers!'

'Look down now.'

'Let's get to the boat. Please!'

'Just look down.'said his mother.

Reluctantly he stuck the snorkel back in his mouth and put his head under. Near the bottom, in the mist left from their abalone gathering, a huge blue shadow twitched and quivered. There it was, not a shark but the biggest fish he had ever seen. It was gigantic. It had fins like ping pong paddles.

Its tail was a blue-green rudder. It looked as big as a horse.

'Come down,' said his mother. 'Let's look at him.'

'I - I thought it was a shark:

'He sure took you by surprise,' she said, laughing.

'That's a blue groper. Biggest I've ever seen.'

Abel and his mother slid down into the deep again and saw the fish hovering then turning, eyeing them cautiously as they came. It twitched a little and edged along in front of them to keep its distance. The big gills fanned. All its armoured scales rippled in lines of green and black blending into the dizziest blue. The groper moved without the slightest effort. It was magnificent; the most beautiful thing Abel had ever seen.

After a few moments his mother eased forward with an abalone in one outstretched hand. The groper watched her. It turned away for a moment, afraid, and then came round in a circle. Abel couldn't hold his breath much longer but he didn't want to miss anything so he hung there above his mother and the fish with his lungs nearly bursting.

The groper arched back. The mosaic of its scales shone in the morning sun. His mother got close enough to touch the fish with the meat of the abalone. The fish trembled in the water and then froze for a moment as though getting ready to flee. She ran the shellmeat along its fat bottom lip and let go. The fish powered forward, chomped the abalone and hurtled off into a dark, deep hole.

ISBN: 9780143304333
ISBN-10: 014330433X
Audience: Children
For Ages: 6 - 12 years old
For Grades: 2 - 9
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 168
Published: December 2008
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Country of Publication: AU
Dimensions (cm): 19.7 x 13.2  x 1.3
Weight (kg): 19.7
Edition Number: 1

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