Project Description

Once upon a time, I wrote a story for the Australian Fairytale Society for their South of the Sun Anthology. They asked their authors to explore the question ‘what makes a story an Australian fairy tale?’

I came up with The Last Bastion, a little story about sentient towers that trapped girls, and what happened to the survivors and rescuers when the city council knocked down the last of these towers.

The anthology includes stories from award winning authors Carmel Bird and Sophie Masson, as well as art works by the talented Leila Honari, Lorena Carrington and Kathleen Jennings.

Here is the link for more information including where to purchase:

Phiny never noticed the Tower anymore. She drove by twice a day for the school drop-offs and pick-ups. Didn’t even flinch at the sight of the faded graffiti covering the limestone blocks or the tacky tour groups rappelling down the turrets. 

‘Mummy, what’s happening to the Tower?’ Her daughter Monica piped up from the back seat of the car. 

Phiny glanced up, then slammed on the brakes as the car in front of her stopped suddenly to make way for the convoy of construction vehicles rumbling past, heading straight for the Tower like hunters on a safari. 

She swore under her breath. ‘Guess they’re finally getting rid of the Tower. Hardly surprising. It’s been marked for demolition for years.’ To her relief, her voice sounded normal, casual even. 

She fiddled at the knob on the radio until some obnoxious afternoon DJ’s voice blasted out of the speakers. Drowning out Monica’s tenacious questions. Filling her head with something other than the thub-thudding of her fluttering heart. Calmdown. Calmdown. Calmdown. Her trembling hands turned into fists that clenched the steering wheel. Why was it that her immediate response to fear was always anger?

Suddenly, she was the ragtag new girl at primary school and the only girl on the under-twelve cricket team. For a whole term, she’d put up with jeers and catcalls until she finally cracked it, turned on the wicket keeper – Cole Culvers was his name, she could still see his smug face whenever she went up to bat — and pounded him into the cricket pitch. 

‘Can we go to the park?’ Her son Evan screwed up his chubby face in a way that Phiny found impossible to resist. There was still time before it got dark and she could do with the distraction.

‘Fresh air would be nice,’ Phiny agreed.  Maybe, she could convince her husband Percy to join them. He hadn’t left the house in a week. She glanced down at the phone beside her on the passenger seat. To her surprise, there was already a message from Percy waiting in the inbox.

I know I should call you but I just can’t. I’m inside the Tower. Please don’t worry. 

The car behind her honked its horn. With a start, Phiny jerked to attention. The line of cars were slowly moving again.

‘Mummy! You shouldn’t text and drive.’ Monica folded her arms, the bridge of her nose wrinkling. 

‘Mummy’s naughty,’ Evan shouted gleefully. 

‘Your father’s trapped in the Tower!’ Phiny blurted out. She half-twisted her body towards the back seat, expecting gasps of horror or at the very least, tears. To her surprise, Evan kicked his chubby legs, his toddler-sized form unable to contain his excitement.

‘Well, daddy loves going on quests. Maybe now he won’t be so sad,’ Monica said.

Phiny opened her mouth to tell her daughter something so cruel she’d never forget it, she’d pass it down to her own daughter, soured and twisted into a curse. Monica couldn’t know how Towers had sprung up in every city across the country, a stone giant casting its shadow over the skyline. This all happened before her time. And they didn’t just trap princesses. They’d cloistered thousands of women and girls; the newspapers only reported the most gruesome cases. The fairy tales taught only happy endings. 

Through the gridlock, a space opened up. Phiny made a split second decision, swerved over three lanes to make the exit. She swore as the driver in the car behind her righteously gave her the finger.

‘This isn’t the way to the park. This is the way to Grandma’s!’ Monica whined. ‘I wanna go to the Tower.’

‘I wanna rescue a princess!’ Evan added.

‘Shut up! You don’t know what you’re talking about!’ In the rearview mirror, Phiny saw Evan suck in his lower lip and screw up his face like he was about to cry.

Monica shrank back in her seat. ‘He didn’t mean it, mummy. He’s just being a boy.’

Phiny’s mum had said something similar that time Phiny punched Cole Culvers. Her mum had smiled benignly as she explained that Cole only picked on her because he liked her. Instead of being flattered, something inside of Phiny curdled. She’d gone to bed that night determined to drop out of the cricket team. The next morning, she’d woken up inside the Tower.

The lights changed and Phiny crossed the intersection into the leafy boulevard that led to Grandma’s house. She pulled up next to the curb of a high-set Queenslander and grabbed her phone. A string of text had arrived.


Stay away. This Tower’s not going down without a fight. It  just released a canker of cane toads.


I love you guys. 

Phiny’s fingers felt clammy as they fumbled over the keypad. Bloody autotext. Are you hurt? Who are you rescuing? How did you get trapped in the Tower? 

She clutched the phone, willing it to buzz back but it remained silent. After a moment, she typed: I’m coming to get you. Hold tight.

What did she know about rescuing people? Nothing. She’d been inside the walls, not scaling them. And all those years watching Percy work, she’d been too busy admiring how hot he looked in his rescue uniform to pay attention to what he was doing. Probably, she’d need some rope. And a grappling hook. Percy had sold all his rescue equipment years ago, right after the government passed the Rapunzel Reform. But he had kept a small workshop going in his mum’s garage. Hopefully, she’d scavenge some equipment. There was a sharp rap on the car window. 

‘What’s going on? The kids says the Tower’s coming down and Percy’s trapped inside,’ Leah, her mum-in-law, pressed her pinched face against the glass. 

Shit. Phiny had been too distracted to notice that Monica and Evan had escaped the confines of the car. Monica glanced at her guiltily, as if she had somehow betrayed Phiny.

‘Grandma, can we go watch?’ Evan pulled at his grandma’s long duster cardigan. 

Leah ignored him. ‘The Tower hasn’t trapped anyone for years. Not since the government passed the Rapunzel reform. Why now?’

Phiny hated it when people asked her about the Tower. As if being trapped had given her insight into its internal machinations. She’d already told the police rescue unit everything she knew. All the women and girls had given identical testimonies. Didn’t matter whether they were locked in spires, belfrys or modern skyscrapers. Their captors has no faces. Meals magically appeared three times a day, along with the lingering scent of tobacco and Old Spice. None of this was Leah’s business. To avoid answering, she grabbed her kids, marched them to the garage. ‘I need to borrow the Ranger.’

‘What for?’

‘To rescue Percy.’ Phiny hit the light switch. Sagging cardboard boxes piled up to the ceiling. A stained mattress was pinned between the mountain of boxes and a sofa with the stuffing ripped out. As the dust motes settled, the mattress sagged forward revealing the workbench behind it. An overhead fluorescent light tube illuminated a single packing box with the flap wide open.

With shaking hands, Phiny reached into the box and picked up the scrapbook. Oh, she’d forgotten that the national paper had done a profile on Percy after he rescued the committee members of the Women in Engineering Society. Someone had snapped a photo as he’d stepped out of the round tower —the dashing rescue officer in his well-fitted red blazer with the president of the association held stiffly against his chest, her silver bun somewhat dishevelled. That image had become iconic. Phiny’s stomach knotted when she peered down at his boyish, bronze face. Did he have any clue back then that he’d become the poster boy for the Rapunzel reformist? That mobs around the country would storm the Towers wearing t-shirts stencilled with his winsome face? That the laugh lines around his eyes would turn craggy, his angular jaw stippled in salt and pepper because he couldn’t be bothered shaving.

‘I don’t think you should interfere,’ Leah interrupted her reverie. ‘This will be good for Percy. It’s the first kidnapping in years. Gets him out of the house and earning some money. Isn’t that what you’ve been nagging him about for months?’

This time, Phiny didn’t imagine the accusing tone. It was so unfair. She made enough money for Percy to pursue anything he wanted — if only he wanted anything other than sitting around staring at old photos from his glory days.

 She took a deep breath, let the snide comment slip as her eyes scanned the back wall. A coil of rope, hook and a small hatchet hung from a rusty frame.

‘You sure you know what you’re doing?’ Leah watched her struggle to unhook the axe.

‘I’ve got this.’ Phiny finally freed the hatchet and turned around to face her mother-in-law and her children. She thought they might cheer like all the times Percy went off on a mission but all she saw in their eyes was doubt. 


By the time Phiny made it on to the main road, traffic had slowed. Overhead, clouds were closing in, pregnant and potent. The lights changed as the first canetoad barrelled out of the sky, a swollen, leathery water balloon that bounced off her windscreen. Phiny made out two bulgy eyes and splayed webbed hands before it exploded in a green mist. 

On the passenger seat, her phone vibrated. Heart pounding, she pressed the accept call key on her entertainment console. ‘Perce, I’m on my way!’

‘They’re starting to move in. You’ve got to stall them!’ Percy’s thick voice cracked over the car speakers. 

Phiny paused. ‘Who?’

‘The city council! They’re going to knock down the last bastion.’

‘Perce, all the Towers are meant to be knocked down as part of the Rapunzel Reform. It’s just taken years to get around all the bureaucracy.’ 

‘You can stop them. You were one of the victims. They’ll listen to you.’

‘Is that why you’re inside the Tower?’ Phiny demanded. ‘Is there even someone trapped inside?’ 

She heard Percy let out a frustrated groan. 

‘Wait! Don’t hang up—’ Too late. Phiny slammed on the brakes as the car in front of her screeched to a halt. Bulbous toads, big as hailstones, pelted down on the surrounding cars. They exploded on impact leaving lurid verdant juices and a sulphurous smelling gas that seeped through the air-conditioner vents. 

A faint hissing sound distracted Phiny. Cane toad guts were eating its way through the windscreen. All around, people were abandoning their cars, running across three lanes of traffic. Fools! She floored the accelerator and spun the wheel hard. The car canted as it lurched down the embankment. Phiny straightened up as it reached the bottom of the gully. The windscreen wipers were useless against the downpour. Through the eucalyptus trees, Phiny could make out a clearing. She cut straight through the long grass and ended up along a service road. The steady shower of toads slowed as if someone had tightened the tap. By the time she reached the main road, a single canetold bounced off the side mirror, landed on the council strip. It struggled to right itself, then hopped away. 

Her hands relaxed a little on the steering wheel as she crossed the intersection. Up ahead, the Tower loomed before her. Steel beams criss-crossed over thirty floors. In the afternoon light, the off-white mosaic tiles shimmered like a blank whiteboard waiting to be inscribed with a story. In her haste, Phiny rode the car up the curbside, nearly knocking over a bike rack. She stuffed the climbing gear into Percy’s old rescue backpack, slung the bag over her shoulders and reached for her axe.

 A large crowd had gathered in the square. Market stallholders had set up along one side selling souvenirs— chunks of sandstone from other dismantled Towers, fairytale comics and artworks, signed posters of that iconic image – the off-kilter doorway framing the young, dashing Percy carrying the president of the Women’s Engineering Society. 

Percy’s old rescue unit were milling around the beer garden, dressed in their red blazers, regaling the crowd with stories. What would they do if they knew their former colleague was staging a protest inside the Tower? Going against everything they’d fought for. Phiny turned away before they recognised her.

She almost barrelled into a freestanding rock climbing wall decorated like the Tower facade. A man dressed in tunic and tight trousers called out to amused bystanders. ‘Ten dollars to climb to the top of the tower! Rescue the Princess for a prize.’ An actress in a blonde wig and puffy, satin gown blew kisses to the crowd below. 

The perimeter around the Tower had been blocked off with barriers. The demolition crew were having a heated discussion with a group of women dressed as grungy princesses. They were gesticulating furiously at the Tower with their shovels and axes. Looked like the Damsel-in-Distress lobbyist wanted the first crack at the Tower. The manager in the hard hat clearly disagreed. 

No one was paying any attention to her. And the revolving door leading into the tower atrium was right there.  Phiny’s mouth felt dry as she pushed the barrier forward an inch. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw one of the grunge princess swing her shovel at the manager. 

Phiny slipped through and ran for the atrium.

The revolving door was jammed. Cane toads were piled up like doorstops inside the cylindrical enclosure. Feeling nauseous, Phiny pushed hard, A chorus of croaks broke out as slowly, the glass door cranked open.  

The cavernous atrium was silent except for the sprightly trill of Bach’s Minuet in G Major coming from an automated grand piano. Phiny listened for a moment, then moved away. There was something creepy about the way the keys sprung up by themselves. 

She grabbed her phone, started tapping in Percy’s number when the smell hit her. Old Spice and leather. The lights on the lift turned green as the doors slid opened. Phiny knew exactly where she needed to go.


Fairy tales greatly exaggerated the image of a medieval tower with carved wooden furniture and intricate tapestries. Phiny treaded lightly past cheap bookcases made of warped chipboard, the Ikea DIY desk with the stack of bleached A4 paper in the filing tray. Oh god, she remembered she’d folded and flown so many paper airplanes out the window, yet the paper tray never emptied. 

Tinny, 8-bit music distracted her. Percy laid reclined upon the princess-style bed in the middle of the room, playing a game on his phone. His blue track pants and high visibility orange and black polo shirt contrasted against the pink voile bedcover and the plump of embroidered pillows. 

He didn’t look up when she approached, just crossed his ankles dragging the attached chain across the bedrail. 

Phiny stared at the handcuff. ‘What is this about?’

‘Sshhhhh! I’m at the level where I’m about to save to save the princess.’

‘Percy. Love. Whatever this is about, we can talk about it at home,’ The chain felt heavy in her hands. ‘Where’s the key?’ 

Percy abruptly turned off his phone. ‘There’s something I never told anyone about that time I rescued the Women in Engineering society. The thing is, by the time I got to them, they’d already built a hang glider and was ready to escape.’

‘That was ages ago. And what does it matter —’

‘I only carried the president through the door because her colleagues insisted she was too frail to glide down. Then afterwards, it was the only thing the newspapers could talk about… seemed no point telling people the truth.’

‘That’s why you’ve chained yourself  up? Because women are perfectly capable of saving themselves?’

‘This is where we first met, remember?’ A smile ghosted Percy’s face as he gestured towards the window. ‘You were twelve years old. You cried and held onto the bed frame. I was just a trainee rescuer. Had a hell of a time convincing you to come with me. I didn’t understand that a part of you wanted to be trapped.’

‘That isn’t true!’

‘In the beginning, maybe it was the Towers that kept dames distressed and caught men up in false catchcries to lay down their lives. But it gave everyone such purpose, a sense of identity.’

‘Percy. No one wants to be trapped. That day you came through the Tower window, I was terrified. I didn’t know you were one of the good guys. We were up so high and you wanted me to climb out the window. You helped me but you couldn’t save me. Just as today, I’m going to help you get out of the Tower but it’ll be you who’ll have to save yourself,’ Phiny squared her shoulders, held out her palm. ‘Now. Hand. Me. The. Key.’ 


The crane moved towards the Tower in slow motion, a giant ballerina’s arabesque. The wrecking ball swung back, reached the pendulum’s peak. Far below, the market stall holders, the office workers and a dollar princess held their breath. They leaned forward with their iphones poised to record as a length of rope dropped out of the top floor. A middle-aged couple appeared in the window casement. The woman kissed the man, straddled the frame and rappelled down as the wrecking ball sailed through the air.