Fenella Goodman

The sign on the farm gate read, “FREE….. NOW YOUR COMMUNITY IS FREE OF FENELLA GOODMAN”

The lettering had been applied in a hurry, and the paint had run, making the sign seem simultaneously frantic and calming.

I didn’t know who this person was or why the sign maker was so pleased to see her go, but I was intrigued. 

The road I’d driven down was barely wide enough for two cars to pass without rearranging bodywork. Still, some optimistic council worker had painted a white line down the middle of the bitumen.

My sat-nav had sent me down here, and I made a personal note to beat it to death with the cricket bat I carried in the boot. This was the third wild goose chase I’d been on this month.

My job is annoying enough without constantly getting lost.

The mobile signal strength is a bit weak, which isn’t all bad. A low signal means the office can’t annoy me as much as they usually do.

I was told that this small town has one of the best regional hotels in the state.

A top hotel and a one-hat restaurant somewhere between nowhere and somewhere else. I remember my eyes lit up when the job appeared on my phone.

Usually, jobs in outback Australia mean I’ll be sleeping in my car to avoid the deadbeat motel where kangaroos bang on your door in the middle of the night. But, at least then, I get to keep the hotel allowance.

Tonight’s stay is going to cost them a fortune.

I love cashed-up ‘tree changers’ with chef skills.

It wasn’t late enough to knock off, but it was deep into the afternoon.

I spend most of my time in the city and suburbs. They have a feel about them, but being out here, not far from the middle of nowhere, reminds you that you live in a vast, open, and hostile country. 

If you take it for granted, it will bite you in the arse.

I’d just finished thinking this when something long, brown, and deadly slithered through the grass. I resisted the urge to thump it with something and probably get myself bitten and die.

Live and let live. 

That deadly bugger lives here, and I don’t.

A gust of wind whipped up the dust, and I was reminded that city dust and country dust don’t smell the same.

So much of knowing where you are is olfactory. 

The narrow road I was on didn’t stop me from turning around, so I did. My soon-to-be deceased sat-nav said the town was a few kilometres east, so I didn’t have to drive into the setting sun.

“Any idea who Fenella Goodman is,” I said to the bloke behind the bar.

“Sorry mate, I’ve only been here a few weeks,” said the barman, and I knew he was lying. Why lie? What did he have to lose if he’d only been here a few weeks?

Bugger him. I’ll find out eventually.


The woman at the hotel reception was friendly. She was medium height, had nice tits, good smile, but her eyes said she was not sure. Not sure of what, I wondered. Not sure of me?

There was a loose thread near the pocket of her blazer, and I really wanted to reach over and pull it, but it had been a long day and a long drive, and I didn’t want to get slapped before dinner.

My room turned out to be comfortable in a 1990s kind of way, which was okay by me. Once it got light again, I’d have a view of the main street. As it was, the street was quiet and bathed in that orange glow you used to get from street lights in areas where fog was a problem. My grandma’s house was on Brunswick Street and trams rattled by saturated in orange light. I imagined that god’s waiting room had trams and orange light, but I was a kid then.

A pretty young waitress showed me to a table for two, which wasn’t at the back of the restaurant near the toilets, which it would have been if this place was on Lygon street. City eateries hate lone diners. I’m as important as anyone else in the back of beyond. Either that or the waitress had not been ‘front of house’ for too long.

“Have you worked in hospitality for long?” I said.

“No. This is my first job,” she said, and I glanced over my shoulder at the table down the back, near the toilets where I would have been sitting.

“You don’t happen to know who Fenella Goodman is, or was,” I said.

“She died, I think. But I didn’t know her, she was old,” said the very young waitress.

“How old?” I said.

“Ancient. Probably forty five or even older.”

Inside, I was rolling my eyes.

“Do you know how she died?” I said.

“Nuh. What would you like to eat?”

I looked around the half-full room. Most diners were well into their main course. I vaguely remembered that the chef was known for steaks. I didn’t bother angsting about the prices. I wasn’t paying for any of this.

“Porterhouse. Medium to well done. Onions very well done. Beans on the side, lots of butter and coarse salt if you have it,” — they did.

“Something to drink?”

“Scotch. The most expensive one you have. Make it a double with water on the side,” I said, and I thanked her as she closed her notebook. 

No iPad ordering out this way.

“I’ll ask the kitchen hands if they know that lady,” she said as she walked back to the kitchen.

“Fenella Goodman,” I said, and I enunciated unnecessarily. Then, finally, I saw her mouth the name as she pushed the two-way door.

Interestingly, she didn’t say she would ask the chef. Maybe she was frightened of him, or perhaps she was bright enough to know that the people who get their hands dirty for a living know stuff. Either way, a scruffy twenty-something bloke approached my table when I’d finished my steak.

“You were asking about Fenella?” said the young man. His demeanour was a bit stooped, a bit apologetic.

“Yes, I was, but I don’t want to get you into trouble with chef,” I said because I understand how kitchens work.

“No. No worries,” he said as he glanced back at the kitchen door, “can’t stay long though.”

“Sit,” I said, motioning at my spare chair.

He thought about it for a moment, then sat more like an older person than a young man.

“I don’t want to speak ill of the dead,” he said, but he did.

This bloke had wanted to spill his soul to someone, and here I was, ready to listen.

Twenty minutes later, a head stuck around the kitchen door and motioned frantically to my source of information.

“Better go, John. I would not want to be responsible for you getting the sack.”

John got up, stared at my tablecloth with the evidence of a meal well eaten and moved towards the kitchen.

“Thanks for listening,” he said without turning around.

He looked like a man heading for the gallows.

After what he told me, I wasn’t surprised by his demeanour.

Every town or suburb has one, but Fenella seems to have taken the art of destroying lives into an art form.


The call I put in with the front desk came through at 5:30am, a full hour before I asked for it. So what is it with country people? Do they think that life before midday is more important?

I staggered around, had a shower, dressed and packed. I checked out, left my bag at the front counter, and waited in the dining room for breakfast to start at 7:30am.

Breakfast was excellent. Country people might wake up too early, but they make a great breakfast.

There was still a bit of yoke stuck to my chin when I threw my bag in the boot of my car. I noticed it when I checked the rearview mirror.

The morning air was still, and the sun was just licking the tops of the buildings. I put on my sunglasses as the address I’d been given was to the east.

The address I needed was only a few minutes from the mysterious farm gate.

The property owner looked like he’d been up for ages.

I introduced myself, and the reason I was there was apparent. The remnants of his burnt-out barn were at the top of the hill. A few uprights and a pile of charred timber were topped by a layer of rusty corrugated iron.

“When do I get my money?” said the farmer. He scratched at his bare arm as he spoke. His dungarees were dusty, and his shirt had seen better days. 

“Once my assessment goes in you should hear within a week or two. Do you have a copy of the police report or the fire brigade assessment?” I said.

The farmer, Joseph William Brown, looked at me as though I’d asked for naked photos of his wife.

“Police came out the next day, mumbled something about local kids being a problem and left. Didn’t give me anything on paper. Local station might have something.”

“I’ll check,” I said.

“Fire brigade didn’t come until it was all over. Hosed down the embers and told me to give them the name of my insurance company, otherwise I’d have to pay.”

“That was thoughtful of them,” I said.

“Bunch of fuckin’ cowboys,” said Joseph William Brown.

“Any idea how it started?” I said.

“The local cowboys said they thought it was probably spontanious combustion in the hay stack.”

“Hay stack up that end?” I said, pointing.

One end of the barn had been reduced to a fine ash and was still warm even though it had been days since the fire.

I wandered through the wreckage and measured a few things, but I’d already decided.

Most times (but not always), if the fire is deliberately lit by the owner, they light the fire close to the main doors so they don’t get trapped. However, this fire had started at the other end of the barn.

I wrote a few notes and took a lot of photos. The farmer made me a coffee, and I headed for my car.

“It has nothing to do with your fire, but did you know Fenella Goodman?” I said as I climbed into my car.

Mr Brown started at me before answering.

“She’s dead and I know you should not speak ill of the dead, but our town is a better place with her not in it.”

“Wow. That’s heavy. What did she do to deserve that?”

“Not for me to say.”

I drove away from town and found the farm gate with the sign.

Someone had tied flowers to the gate. People usually do that to honour the person who has died, but I don’t think this is what that was about.

I worked out that the office would pay for one more night without giving me a hard time, so I told the front desk I’d stay one more night.

I showed my credentials to the officer who was manning the desk at the police station.

“Insurance assessor eh?” said the constable.

“Yes. It’s about the barn fire at the Brown farm a few days ago. Do you have a report I can look at?”

The constable sighed and dived under the desk. A few moments passed, and I thought he may have escaped through a trapdoor when he popped up with a form in his hand.

“Can I get a copy of that?” I said.

The constable sighed a slightly larger sigh and disappeared through a small door. The sound of a copy machine permeated the paper-thin wall.

“While I have you, can I ask you about Fenella Goodman?”

“Why do you want to know? Nothing to do with you.”

I fished in my pockets and brought out all the candy bars I’d filched from my room’s mini bar. I put them neatly on the counter.

The constable understood my gambit.

I expected him to make a selection, but he cleared the counter and put them all in his pockets. Then, he raised his eyes and stared at me like policemen do. I think they do a particular course that teaches them not to blink.

“Bad news, that woman,” he said.

“Bad news how?” I said.

“Bad, bad. The sort of bad you expect from a bloke who doesn’t give a fuck about anyone or anything. Most people learn a thing or two after we bang them up a few times. Not this bitch. She threatened people just for sport. People would walk the long way around just to avoid her. She knifed the local grocer because she reckoned he short changed her. The pub black-listed her two days after she moved here. The pub has had several mysterious fires over the years. We know it was her, but we can’t prove it. She’s been gaoled three times for assault, but it didn’t make any difference to her behaviour. She killed a friend of hers in a drunken brawl, but her husband wouldn’t testify against her. Said she wasn’t there at the time. We knew that it was only a matter of time before he got sick of being knocked around and turned on her.”

“Well, did he?” I said, and I realised I sounded like a curious kid.

“Didn’t get a chance to. He drowned while they were swimming together during that heat wave we had a while back. A witness helped to drag him out of the water, but he couldn’t be revived. Witness said that his drowning wasn’t suspicious, just bad luck. Bad luck, my arse. She offed him for sure. She was due in court a few days after she was killed. I guess someome had had enough.”

“How did she die?” I asked, but I was sure I didn’t want to know.

“She was walking into town along the road. Shotgun blast. Bugger ran over her for good measure. She terrorised a lot of people so the list of suspects is as long as a roll of dunny paper. Probably never work out who did it unless they confess.”

I wanted to say something, but nothing came out.

“A local, a quiet bloke, killed himself the same day she was murdered. We can’t find a link between them but most people feel that he snapped and did her in. I’m not so sure.”

“What about the sign on the gate?” I said.

“You’ve seen that, have you? It’s been looked at, but there’s no way to identify the handwriting — all in capitals. And the paint is everyday common.”

I felt I’d gotten my chocolate bars’ worth, so I said thank you and left.

I see all sorts of strange behaviour in my job, or at least the aftermath of behaviour, but this takes the cake.

This woman had been terrorising her community for years, and it took a quiet bloke with a shotgun to end her reign of terror.

And what about the person who owned that farm gate? What had Fenella Goodman done to him? And why paint that sign and put it there? Why not post it in town somewhere prominent?

Was there something personal between the gunman and this property owner?

I’m unlikely to find out.

I went to the fire brigade office, did my little ‘do you have any paperwork’ dance and slept soundly that night.

I emailed my report the following day at 5:45am, not long after my wake-up call and promptly went back to bed.

The housemaid woke me again at 9:05am.

I’d missed breakfast, but there was a good cafe in town and eggs and mushrooms were consumed. The coffee was good.

I paid the bill and asked one last question.

“What did Fenella Goodman do to you?” I said to the owner. Her face turned grey.

“You don’t want to know,” she said, and she was right.

This trip was over.

I put on my Beatles CD and headed my car toward Melbourne.

I drove without taking a break, except to relieve myself by the side of the road.

It was dark when I arrived home, and my neighbour saw me and delivered my dog, who was delighted to see me.

I gave my neighbour a bottle of Scotch, our agreed payment method for regular dog sitting.

We sat on her verandah and watched the stars while putting a dent in the bottle of Scotch.

My dog curled up at my feet.

“So how did this trip go?” my dog sitter said.

“You don’t want to know,” I said, and I meant it.


12 thoughts on “Fenella Goodman

  1. It would be very cool, if slightly annoying. I have a variety of birds who sit outside my window and look excited when I appear. Cockatoos eat my door, but so far, no kangaroos. In real terms, I think my main character was referring to drunk bogans/tourists and used the euphemism of ‘kangaroos’. But, what would I know? Thank you for taking the time to comment.


  2. I love your skill at weaving revealing little side-stories all along the main story arc — e.g. the loose thread on that receptionist’s pocket & the narrator’s decision not to get himself slapped before dinner… very nice, very deft

    Liked by 1 person

        • Back in the day, I paid for ‘advice’ in the form of an editor (not just spelling and punctuation), and he was annoying and incredibly helpful. There was the usual “show don’t tell” advice, and I guess that’s where those ‘little flourishes’ come from. To me, they feel like a way to give an insight into the character of the character. In real life, I notice little things about people, and it makes them interesting to me. I know a bloke who mows lawns for a living. We bump into him at Maccas occasionally. He has a habit of standing a bit too close to me when he talks. No one else I know does that. It’s not intimidating; it’s just distinctive.
          A woman I knew a while back shared a stage with me one time (I was to be the speaker who preceded her). She asked me how long I was going to speak because she didn’t want my talk to eat into her time. No one would dare to do that, but she did, and she finished it off by undoing the top button on my shirt, “There, that looks much better,” she said.
          I had a grin on my face the whole time. It was all too amazing for me to be upset. I knew I would find a way to put her into one of my stories, which I haven’t done so far.
          Sadly, she died a little while ago, but she managed to annoy and fascinate a lot of people before she did.
          Thanks again for enjoying my stories and noticing the things that many others do not.

          Liked by 1 person

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