Dad’s Runway – Synopsis

Part-fantasy, part-farce, Dad’s Runway is a novel for ten to twelve-year-olds.


Tammy’s town is in trouble. For years, Nankervis has been shrinking. Now her mum’s café is out of customers and her Uncle Mal has nothing to build. Worse still, Tammy’s dance teacher has moved away, shattering the twelve-year-old’s dream of becoming a dancer. Soon, it seems, there’ll be nothing to stay for, and the town will disappear.

That’s until Tammy’s leg-spinning, wheat-farming dad, Nev, gets wind of the strife. ‘What’s that,’ he barks into the phone one night. ‘Not enough players for the cricket team?’ Spurred into action but short of ideas, he turns to Tammy’s grumpy grandma, Iris, for help. Digging around in the shed, she drags out a dusty, half-empty bag of seed. ‘Your dad told me that if the town was ever in trouble again, I had to pass this on.’ ‘What,’ Nev says, ‘some old seed?’ Iris shrugs. ‘It had come in handy before, he said. Don’t know how. Story goes that one of your great-great-greats swapped some sheep for it on the way to market.’

The next day, Saturday, Dad sows the seed – to the family’s surprise and disbelief. ‘Fine time to be planting,’ says Tammy’s mum, Lindy. ‘And in the home paddock too. What are you up to, Nev?’ ‘Nothing,’ he replies. ‘I’ve just got a great idea.’ Everyone groans. They all know about Dad’s ‘great ideas’.

To everyone’s amazement, the seeds sprout into a long strip of tough low turf. ‘What is it, Dad?’ Tammy’s twin younger brothers, Jimmy and Joey, want to know. ‘A massive cricket pitch?’ ‘Nope,’ he replies. ‘But I bet we’ve got a cricket team again before the week is out.’ No-one believes him, of course, despite the speedy growth of the grass. Tammy’s twenty-year-old sister, Beth, is mortified. ‘It’s so embarrassing,’ she says. ‘Soon I’ll have to leave town, too.’

Overnight, the magic starts to work, and the kids are woken early Monday morning by the buzz of a low-flying plane. ‘It’s a runway!’ cries Jimmy, as they race toward the turf, where Dad can be seen signalling the plane to a stop with ping pong bats. ‘No, it isn’t,’ Joey yells back, ‘it’s Dad’s runway!’

The aeroplane has a nurse and a ‘flying doctor’ on board. Its pilot steps out shaking his head. ‘Weird,’ he says. ‘It’s like the plane landed itself.’ He looks around. ‘I didn’t even know this airstrip existed.’ ‘Next you’ll be saying you haven’t heard of Nankervis,’ Dad jokes, sticking out his hand. ‘Welcome to the best little town west of the rest.’ Mum pulls up in the four-wheel drive. ‘Jump in,’ Dad says. ‘Lindy’ll show you around.’ Later, the plane leaves minus the nurse, who has decided to stay. ‘It was the empty health clinic that did it,’ Mum explains that night. ‘That view out over the river.’ Dad gives her a squeeze. ‘Rubbish, love. We all know it was what you fed ’em for lunch.’

The same thing happens again and again that week. On Tuesday, a private jet arrives. Its owner takes a fancy to the work of the town’s artists, and leaves her assistant behind to look into setting up a gallery-cum-collective in the town, one she plans to market to the world. On Wednesday, a freight plane lands, carrying cartons of used books. ‘Unwanted ex-library stuff,’ the pilot tells them. ‘Bewdy,’ says Dad. ‘They’ll do to get our library going again.’

On Thursday, an American stealth bomber sneaks in, and the first anyone knows of it is when the two airmen knock on the homestead door. Beth is the only one around, so she plays the host. By the time Dad stops in for lunch, Beth and the younger pilot, Samuel, have taken a shine to one another. ‘Any work around?’ the American asks. With a gleam in his eye, Dad introduces him to an old crop-dusting plane. ‘Meet the Widow-maker,’ he says. ‘She’s been looking for a pilot since the last one shot through.’ Samuel decides to stay, and the stealth bomber slips away without him.

Nankervis hits the jackpot on Friday, when a gigantic jet airliner appears on the runway. Ferried to town in a procession of utes, its passengers get a taste of country hospitality, Nankervis style. Some enjoy it so much that they aren’t on board when the big jet blasts off. Mum and Uncle Mal are ecstatic – business is looking up – and so is Dad, since he’s managed to fill up his cricket team.

Saturday brings a cloud-seeding plane, and with it much-needed rain. Around the bonfire that night, Nankervites old and new celebrate. Thanks to Dad’s runway, their town has been saved. Tammy, though, is downcast, for she is still without a teacher. Woken before dawn the next day, she is drawn out into the home paddock, above which a hang-glider majestically wheels and whirls, its wings gleaming in the light of the unrisen sun. Touching down, the pilot, a lithe smiling woman, holds out her hand. ‘Shall we?’ she says. Together, Tammy and her new teacher waltz across the runway.

The spell is broken when the town’s Wright brothers, Deano and Dave, roar on to the airstrip in their ute, whooping and blasting the horn, an old sheet of roof iron roped across the tray to mimic wings. ‘That’s it,’ says Dad, as he waves them away. ‘You know your runway’s done when it lands you the wrong Wright brothers.’

By sunset the strange turf has withered away, all being well in Nankervis at last.