Northern suburbs, Melbourne, 1988

From the novel Undercurrents

 In the aftermath of his brother Dennis drowning at Gunnamatta beach, teenager Jack McIvor confronts past events compounded by new, interconnected dramas featuring family, friends, teachers, local low-lifes and one special girl. In this short extract, Jack’s aunt Teresa helps him compile a mix tape to woo Katrina.


They relocate to his bedroom whereupon Jack begins rummaging through a stack of compact discs. Teresa views Dennis’ guitar in the corner. She cradles the neck, tipping it back and forward as if considering a purchase.

‘Have a play Tess. I do sometimes. I’m rubbish but the sound brings back memories.’

Teresa declines the offer and joins in, flicking through and reordering the cases alphabetically with the dexterity of somebody who does it for a living. She is a veteran of the mix tape caper, having made a number for boyfriends and would-be boyfriends of yore. There are guidelines; no heavy metal, no techno, no hip hop, no breakup elegies, no schmaltzy love songs and definitely no Phil Collins or Rick Astley. On the ‘do’ list; vary the music styles, upbeat, clever lyrics and songs that bear repeat listens.

By the time she specifies the ground rules Jack loses a little enthusiasm for the exercise. But Teresa knows what she’s doing and before long they arrive at a short list of twenty tracks from which they manage to squeeze fourteen on the cassette;


Jack’s Ripper Mix Tape ’88

  1. The Way You Make Me Feel – Michael Jackson
  2. To Look at You – INXS
  3. Don’t You (Forget About Me) – Simple Minds
  4. Message to My Girl – Split Enz
  5. Raspberry Beret – Prince
  6. Saturday Night – Cold Chisel
  7. Always the Sun – The Stranglers
  8. In Between Days – The Cure
  9. Absolute Beginners – David Bowie
  10. Just Can’t Get Enough – Depeche Mode
  11. Ask – the Smiths
  12. A Good Heart – Feargul Sharkey
  13. Hold On – Models
  14. Head over Heels – Tears for Fears


‘We should work for EMI,’ enthuses Jack after an hour and a half absorbed in a relaxing, if not at times emotionally fraught activity.