Playing God is a dangerous game
When forest protests engulf a tiny Tasmanian timber town, one family’s century of secrets threatens to destroy a marriage – and bring down a government.
The Memory Tree
by Jennifer Scoullar
Matt Abbott, head ranger at beautiful Binburra National Park, is a man with something to hide. He confides his secret to nobody, not even his wife Penny. The deception gnaws away at their marriage.
Matt’s father, timber and mining magnate Fraser Abbott, stands for everything Matt hates. Son disappoints father, father disappoints son – this is their well-worn template. But Fraser seems suddenly determined to repair the rift between them at any cost, and Matt will discover that secrets run in the family. When Sarah, a visiting Californian geneticist, tries to steal Matt’s heart, the scene is set for a deadly betrayal.
The Memory Tree is a haunting story of family relationships, the unbreakable ties we all have to the past and the redemptive power of love.
From Jennifer Scoullar, author of the bestselling Fortune’s Son, comes the third book in the Tasmanian Tales trilogy. The Memory Tree carries on this gripping saga of ambition, betrayal and dangerous love.
Excerpt from The Memory Tree by Jennifer Scoullar
Penny watched the black Audi sweep into the car park. That had to be her. Its driver, slim, dark-haired and stylish, walked over and introduced herself with a broad American accent. ‘Dr Sarah Deville, UCLA.’ She smiled and shook Penny’s hand a little too hard. ‘I’ve never seen a live devil. Really looking forward to this.’
Penny began the seminar, standing beneath a banner strung above the whiteboard ‒ Slow Down Between Dusk and Dawn. It was more than a little overwhelming to have the renowned geneticist in the audience. If she pretended Dr Deville wasn’t there it might help. She cast her eye over the crowd. About thirty. A good number. Dr Deville sat at the back. Penny tried to concentrate.
‘Welcome to Binburra Wildlife Park, thirty thousand hectares of World Heritage wilderness high on the rim of Tuggerah Valley. The property originally belonged to a founding member of Tasmania’s environmental movement, Daniel Campbell. His family later bequeathed it to the state, to be gazetted as a national park.’ Penny wet her lips. ‘Binburra pioneered the captive management and breeding of Tasmanian devils. They’re a lonely species ‒ their close relatives already gone ‒ and for the past two decades we’ve been fighting to save the devils themselves from extinction, because a bizarre and mysterious disease is set to wipe them out.’
Penny winced. How stupid she sounded, going through her little spiel when the world expert on the devil genome sat right there in front of her. She tried not to look at Dr Deville and ended up staring slightly to the side, as if there was some sort of fascinating patch on the wall. Two women in the front row were looking sideways now too. For goodness sake, get a grip.
‘A virulent contagious cancer known as Devil Facial Tumour Disease ‒ DFTD for short ‒ causes suppurating tumours in the animals. Those affected die agonising deaths within months, starving as disfiguring growths eat away their jaws and choke their throats.’ She cleared her own throat. ‘Binburra provides healthy animals to mainland and overseas zoos. These Project Ark founders are breeding safe from the threat of disease, but our wild devils could soon face extinction.’ She was talking too fast, rushing it. She took a deep, steadying breath. ‘And if we let that happen, nobody will understand, and nobody will forgive us.’
Penny reached into the box at her feet. She pulled out a squat black creature the size of a small bulldog, with round furry ears – cute like a teddy bear. It sniffed the air. She set the animal on the desk in front of her and it shuffled around to face the audience. With a collective gasp, people shrank back. The devil looked as if a hunk of raw, rotting meat had been slapped along the entire side of its head. Its jaw was disfigured by ulcerating growths that forced its lips apart and protruded through its mouth. A fleshy, bleeding tumour mushroomed from one eye.
‘Meet Angel,’ said Penny. ‘A motorist killed her mother three years ago and thankfully stopped to check for pouch young. She found two dead babies and Angel here, barely clinging to life. I nursed her round the clock, took her with me everywhere.’ Penny paused to fondle Angel’s misshapen head. ‘Angel stayed with me at the sanctuary until she was eighteen months old. I never met a sweeter, cleverer little devil. In winter she dragged logs to the fireplace, hinting for us to light it. She loved curling up by that fire. And she mothered the younger orphans, carrying them in her mouth if she thought they were in danger, putting them back in their baskets. She really is special. Last year I released her into what we hoped was a safe area of the park. We trapped her in the course of our regular monitoring program two weeks ago … like this.’
A question came from the crowd. ‘How did you know it was her?’
‘All our animals are microchipped. But I’d know her anywhere, and she recognised me too, knew I was trying to help.’ Penny kissed Angel’s forehead and stretched out her hind legs, exposing an emaciated abdomen. More gasps from the audience. Three joeys clung to Angel’s belly. ‘Afflicted she-devils are extraordinarily devoted, never abandoning their young. Instead a mother steadfastly feeds and protects her joeys until the very last moments of her life. We’re just waiting for Angel’s babies to be a few weeks older, closer to weaning. Then we’ll euthanise her.’ Penny tucked Angel’s legs back in as comfortably as she could. ‘You won’t suffer anymore then, sweetheart.’ The devil laid her poor, mutilated head in the crook of Penny’s arm.
After the seminar, Penny sold a few souvenirs as people left. Sarah Deville stood by, watching a volunteer carry Angel out in a crate. ‘Can you show me a healthy one?’
‘Of course. Just let me lock up.’
Penny entered the shady enclosure where Bonny and her babies snored in a hollow log. She beckoned for Sarah to follow.
Sarah hesitated. ‘Won’t they bite?’
‘Our devils are used to handling,’ said Penny. ‘And Bonny here, in particular, is a complete pushover.’ As promised, sleepy Bonny let Penny pull her from the log to show off her four babies.
‘Is it true they eat anything?’ asked Sarah.
‘Pretty much,’ said Penny. ‘We’ve found all sorts of things in their scat. Boot leather, bottle tops, cigarette butts. Even echidna quills. Their stomach acids have a bone-dissolving enzyme.’ Sarah squealed as one little devil ran up Penny’s arm and sat on her shoulder. Penny tickled the baby’s tummy. ‘These joeys really should be independent by now, but little Zoe here is a persistent late suckler, so they’ll stay with mum a bit longer.’ Penny placed Zoe in Sarah’s arms. ‘Some people call baby devils imps,’ she said. ‘For very good reason.’
Buy The Memory Tree
(available in eBook and paperback)
The 5 Big Questions
- How long did it take you to write the book?
The Memory Tree took a year to write, but it had been brewing for much longer than that. Although it is a standalone novel, it is also the third book in my Tasmanian Tales series, and the story had been swirling around my mind since 2016. These books are inspired by my fascination with Tasmanian flora and fauna ‒ in particular the Tasmanian devil and its extinct cousin, the thylacine.
- What was the most difficult or complex aspect of writing your book?
Researching the fascinating but complicated science underpinning the fight to save Tasmanian devils from Devil Facial Tumour Disease (DFTD) This cruel cancer is threatening devils with extinction, and the race is on to find a cure.
- What gave you the most pleasure when writing your book?
I loved my research trips to the magnificent Tasmanian wilderness.
I also enjoyed crafting the relationship between Matt and Penny, my two main characters. I quite liked torturing them 😊
- Are you nervous when a new release comes out?
Always! I never know whether people will like a new book. Waiting for the first reviews to roll in is nerve-racking, as is the thought of disappointing my readers.
- What’s the best thing a reader could do if they enjoyed your book?
If readers enjoy my book I’d love them to leave a review somewhere online. Amazon, Booktopia, Goodreads, Facebook, iTunes ‒ it really doesn’t matter where. Authors only have a few months to make a splash before the next shiny thing comes along, and reviews are so important. If the subject matter of The Memory Tree moves you, please consider making a donation to the Devils In Danger Foundation (http://devilsindangerfoundation.org.au/ ) You can even adopt a Tasmanian devil there!
Bestselling Author of Australian Fiction
A love affair with the wild…
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