46 Great Opening Lines: 40

It’s pre-dawn, all dark. Breeding season.

First words of ‘Breeding Season’, Amanda Niehaus, inĀ Overland, Spring 2017

I’ve been buying literary journals for a couple of years now, reading short stories to see how writers write in the 21st century. My translations are mostly of 19th-century stories, so I need to prompt myself to read today’s writing. It’s never good to get stuck in the past.

Overland is one of the Australian journals I’ve been reading. Not every piece is to my taste, but there’s usually one in each issue that I read and re-read. ‘Breeding Season’ was such a story, drawing me in with the very word breeding, not in the title but in the first line. And then, later, the mention of an antechinus.

I once caught sight of an antechinus in a sawn tree trunk in Wangaratta. I’d heard about them, how they resemble mice and rats, how we can confuse them all, but this one was prettier than any rat and I suspected that the crevices of the old trunk were more suited to a native marsupial than an introduced species. He stood still long enough for me to snap his photo. I wrote about the antechinus and my trip to Wangaratta in an earlier blog post.

Antechinus, North Beaches Reserve, Wangaratta (river beaches not ocean beaches…)

To return to the great opening line: my interest was triggered by the word breeding, evidence that the first words of a story can click somewhere in the reader’s experience, or in their hopes and fears. I wasn’t disappointed, for within ‘Breeding Season’, Amanda Niehaus writes about the jelly-bean sized babies of the antechinus and a woman’s own baby growing inside her.

I read this prize-winning story in my copy of Overland but it’s also available online.



Once, when we were having a day in the country, not too far from the city, and in fact quite close to Canberra, we discovered not just the Googong dam and spillway, but, continuing a little further along, and crossing a causeway over the Queanbeyan River, we discovered an echidna coming from the river and heading for the road.


We pulled over and, knowing how slow echidnas go, I took advantage of his handicap to photograph him up close.


He was a very peaceful little fellow to observe. But he was wary of me, and, unable to run away, he hid his face, hoping he would become invisible. When echidnas feel endangered they try to bury themselves, but since I’d caught him on a rocky surface, it was all he could do to stick his snout in the sand.


When he looked up and saw me still watching, he made an effort to escape to a place inaccessible to humans. And I have to admit, these brambly blackberry canes covered in thorns (an introduced invasive weed) would leave me scratched and bleeding if I tried to reach into them, but for a creature covered in long sharp quills, this is not a problem.


I moved away and watched him turn about and head back to the road. Now I feared for his life, I’ve seen a lot of echidna roadkill, and knew he’d be history if it was not his lucky day. But as it turned out, not many cars passed this way while I was there. He made it to the other side, where I once again attempted to get up close. He made a beeline for a large and rather beautiful arrangement of deadwood. I tried to take his photo but he kept hiding his face behind the grey branches.


Finally he went deep into a sort of cave of dead tree trunks and vegetation debris, and all I could see was his spiky rear end disappearing into the safe shadows. If you look carefully, you’ll see his round back at about the centre of this photo:


Thanks to Ailsa at Where’s my backpack, I remembered my close encounter with a spiny spiky prickly thorny much-loved Australian animal, an echidna.