By Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel KwaymullinaYoung AdultAllen & Unwin

Catching Teller Crow

A totally addictive ghost story, crime story and thriller, told half in prose and half in verse, from two of the most exciting Aboriginal voices in Australia.

Nothing's been the same for Beth Teller since she died. Her dad, a detective, is the only one who can see and hear her - and he's drowning in grief. But now they have a mystery to solve together. Who is Isobel Catching, and what's her connection to the fire that killed a man? What happened to the people who haven't been seen since the fire? As Beth unravels the mystery, she finds a shocking story lurking beneath the surface of a small town, and a friendship that lasts beyond one life and into another. 

Told in two unforgettable voices, this gripping novel interweaves themes of grief, colonial history, violence, love and family.

Portrait of Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina

Ambelin Kwaymullina and Ezekiel Kwaymullina

Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina are a brother-sister team of Aboriginal writers who come from the Palyku people of the Pilbara region of Western Australia. They've worked together on a number of short novels and picture books. Catching Teller Crow is their first joint young adult novel. They believe in the power of storytelling to create a more just world.

Judges’ report

Catching Teller Crow is a beautifully rendered novel that explores some of the most difficult aspects of Australia’s history through the eyes of three compelling and resilient Aboriginal women. It deftly navigates themes of grief, loss and violence, with an ultimately hopeful testament to the bonds of family and the power of storytelling. 

Beth Teller has been killed in a car accident, but she won’t leave her father, police detective Michael, until she’s convinced he can cope with the loss. Until then, she follows along as Michael investigates a suspicious fire in a children’s home that claimed a life. The authors expertly weave together elements of police procedural, ghost story, and the allegorical accounts of hospitalised witness, Isobel Catching. Historical sins intertwine with the contemporary, as Isobel merges her story with that of her grandmother, a member of the Stolen Generations. Alternating chapters in prose and verse give Beth and Isobel unique voices, and poetry is used to paint Isobel’s evocative visions and sense of non-linear time. 

Catching Teller Crow takes the reader on a deep and powerful journey where things may not be as they initially seem. The multifaceted narrative is skilfully handled and fully realised, resulting in a tightly paced, poignant and nuanced story that invites re-reading.

Extract

Beth: The Town

My dad looked like crap.

His blond hair was flat and grubby and his skin seemed too big for his bones. The muscly, tanned guy who’d built me a two-storey treehouse when I was a kid had been replaced by a pale shell of a man who didn’t build anything.

You’d think it would be me who looked different. Dad said I didn’t. I couldn’t tell, since I didn’t cast a reflection anymore. But if I looked the same then the face smiling out from the pictures on the walls of our house must still be my face: curly dark hair, round cheeks, brown skin like Mum’s and blue eyes like Dad’s. Only I didn’t smile as much now. Dad barely smiled at all.

He pressed his hand to his chest, out of breath from climbing up this rocky hill. There were a bunch of rock formations like this one around here, rising up from a flat red plain that was dotted with trees. I liked the trees. They were old and white and twisty, spiralling upwards to fling out their leaves as if they were hoping to touch the sky. I liked the sky too; there seemed to be more of it here than in the city. There were no buildings to block it out. No big ones, anyway. We could see much of the town from where we stood: a sprawl of houses surrounded by the scattered trees, with a long river to the north. The town was covered in the same dust that coated everything, including our car and my dad’s rumpled shirt and pants. The dust hadn’t touched my clothes, of course. My dress would always be as yellow and crisp as it had been on the day Aunty Viv drove me to the birthday party.

Dad took a step closer to the edge of the hill, gazing outwards.

‘I don’t think you’re going to solve the case from up here,’ I told him.

His gaze shifted in my direction. His eyes were bright with tears. Sometimes he couldn’t even look at me without sobbing. Today the tears didn’t fall. But I could hear them in his voice when he said, ‘I miss you, Beth.’

‘I’m right here, Dad.’

Except we both knew I wasn’t. At least, not in the way he wanted me to be.

The accident had happened so fast. One minute I’d been sitting in Aunty Viv’s sedan, everything normal. Then I’d heard the four-wheel drive ploughing through the bushes as it tore down the embankment. I’d looked up to see it hurtling at me, and … nothing. I didn’t remember the actual dying part. In fact, I felt as if I was still a living, breathing girl. Right now, for instance, I could see the town, hear the wind, smell the eucalyptus from the trees and taste the gritty dust. I just couldn’t touch any of it.

This wasn’t how I’d imagined being dead, not that I’d ever spent much time thinking about it. But Mum had died when I was just a baby, and her two sisters – Aunty Viv and Aunty June – had always told me I’d see her again. Aunty June reckoned that Mum was ‘on another side’. Her husky voice echoed through my memory: This world’s got a lot of sides, like those crystals your Aunty Viv hangs in her window, and your mum’s just on a different side to us. So I’d always figured that when I passed over to another side, Mum would be there to meet me.

She hadn’t been. But I sometimes had a sense that she was waiting somewhere ahead – I’d be seeing her, I knew it. What I didn’t know was exactly when. The ‘when’ didn’t matter so much though, since I didn’t count minutes or hours anymore. Days began when the sun rose and ended when it set. In between, the connections I made – like the ways I helped my dad, or didn’t help him – were what told me if I was moving forwards or backwards. As my Grandpa Jim had once said to me, Life doesn’t move through time, Bethie. Time moves through life.

Dad was staring at me with the lost expression I’d come to hate. I waved encouragingly at the town. ‘Why don’t you go investigate?’

He stared for a moment longer. Then he turned away and wiped at his eyes, focusing his attention on the houses below us.

‘I am investigating. I’m getting a sense of the place.’ His voice was raspy. He drew in a deep breath, and added in a more even tone, ‘It reminds me of where your mum and I grew up.’ His mouth twisted as if he’d tasted something bad. ‘Local police officers can have a lot of power in a place like this.’

He was thinking about his father. My grandpa on Dad’s side – who I’d never actually met – had been a cop for thirty years, and he wasn’t a good guy. Dad said his old man thought the law was there to protect some people and punish others. And Aboriginal people were the ‘others’. Grandpa and Grandma Teller had thrown Dad out when he started seeing Mum, and they’d never wanted anything to do with me, their Aboriginal granddaughter.

‘Do you think there are police like your dad in this town?’ I asked.

‘Maybe. Maybe not. Places like this are changing. Places everywhere are changing. Slowly, but it’s happening.’ He sighed and shook his head. ‘I’m just not sure there’s anything here to investigate.’

I didn’t like the sound of that. I needed Dad to be interested in this case. My father was stuck in grief like a man caught in a muddy swamp. I had to get him to walk forward until he’d left the mire behind. Otherwise he’d just keep sinking until the water swallowed him.

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards shortlist