The Nicklebys: A Story for Catholic Children
by: Sue Felton


Father Brown is coming for morning tea. He has never visited the Nickleby family before. The girls are wondering what Fr Brown will be like. They think he must be a very special person. Every time they go to Mass they see him up on the altar in his magnificent vestments. They know he is able to turn bread into the Body of Jesus.

Edward and Joe have spoken to Father Brown many times. They are altar boys. They like serving for Father Brown. "Father is always very patient," says Edward. "If we do something wrong, he never gets cross."

"Yes," agrees Joe. "He's very good at explaining things to us. I like him."

Mum is busy getting the house tidy for Father Brown's visit. Kate and Celeste are cooking Anzac biscuits. They have heard that these biscuits are Father's favourites. Edward and Joe are attempting to clear some of the mess off their bedroom floor just in case Father Brown wants to see their model trains. Annie and Lizzie are looking out the window to see if they can spot Father Brown's car coming along the road.

After what seems like a long time, they see a small car come bouncing along the street. It pulls to a sudden stop outside their house and the car door swings open. Surprisingly, a very large man appears from the very small car. It is Father Brown. He strides up the path towards the door.

Before Father Brown has time to ring the bell, Annie and Lizzie run to the front door. They fling it open and then they stop. All of a sudden, they are very shy. Father Brown looks so tall and they feel so small. But then he smiles and they notice his twinkling eyes. He bends down and introduces himself. Lizzie runs ahead showing him the way into the kitchen where the rest of the family is gathered.

Mum and Dad shake hands with Father Brown. Then it is time to introduce the children. Of course, Father already knows Edward and Joe. And he met Lizzie and Annie at the door. That leaves Kate and Celeste.

Mum puts on the kettle. She knows Father Brown runs on tea. She asks Kate to find an extra large mug for their guest. Then they all find a seat around the long kitchen table.

Father Brown has an old battered leather bag with him and while he waits for his tea, he delves into the bag and brings out a book. "I've brought something for Edward and Joe," he says. "I am sure they will like it."

Everyone leans across the table trying to read the title of the book. "It's an adventure story," says Father Brown. "It was written by a friend of mine, Father James Tierney. He's a priest like me but retired from parish duties. He lives in the country and spends a lot of his time writing."

Edward picks up the book and reads the title aloud, "Bush Boys: an Outdoor Adventure and the ABC of Camping. Wow! This looks interesting. We love camping."

Father Brown tells them more about the book. "This book is the first one in the Bush Boys series. The Bush Boys are a group of young people who like to go off on camping adventures in the Wild Bush Mountains."

"But what's an ABC of camping, Father?" asks Joe.

"It's a bush catechism. You know what a catechism is, don't you?"

"Yes, we have to learn our Catholic catechism," replies Edward. "There are lots of questions and answers on all the important things we should know about our Faith."

"That's right," says Father Brown. "And a bush catechism is lots of questions and answers on all the important things you should know before setting off on a bush adventure."

Edward and Joe's eyes light up. They like the idea of a bush catechism. They can't wait to start reading the book.

"Let's look at the first question," Father Brown says and he begins to read: "'What do we need to survive in the bush?'"

"Well, you'd need some kind of shelter like a tent," suggests Joe.

"And food," says Edward. "You'll need to take food with you on a camping trip. Unless you are good at finding bush tucker."

"And water," adds Kate thinking quickly, "Unless you know where to find clean drinking water."

Joe takes the book from Father Brown and reads the answer to the question:

"To survive in the bush we need water and food, clothing and shelter."

By now, Father Brown has the extra large mug of tea in front of him. He reaches for an Anzac biscuit and bites into it. "I think these are the best Anzac biscuits I've ever tasted," he says. Kate and Celeste beam with delight. They pass around the plate of biscuits before resuming the conversation.

"Do you think you could learn all 50 questions and answers of the bush catechism?" asks Father Brown, turning to Edward and Joe.

"Oh yes!" they assure him. "That will be easy."

Father Brown directs his next question to Dad. "If I organize a fathers' and sons' camping trip will you bring along your boys?"

Dad thinks this is a wonderful idea. He used to be a scout when he was a boy and he sometimes takes Edward and Joe camping.

"If you learn all the questions and answers quickly we could fit in a camping trip before the cool weather comes along," plans Father Brown. We'll invite some other fathers and sons and we'll go up to the Minna Mountains."

Edward and Joe are very excited. The girls wish they could go camping too. "We could be Bush Girls," they insist.

But Mum says taking Annie camping would be hard work. "Perhaps I can take you to visit Auntie Vanessa and all the cousins while the boys are away."

Soon Father Brown's visit comes to an end. He thanks Mum for the morning tea and congratulates Kate and Celeste once again on their delicious biscuits. Then Father Brown shakes everyone's hands, even Annie's. They all go to the door to wave him off.

When the little car has roared off into the distance, Edward suddenly remembers the Bush Boys book. It is still sitting on the kitchen table. Joe also remembers the book. Both boys want to be the first to read the camping adventure. They race each other to the table and both snatch up the book at the same time. What are they going to do? There is only one book and two boys eager to read it.

Dad has a solution. "You can photocopy the bush catechism, Edward. A copy for each of you. Then you can start learning all the questions and answers. And if I read the book aloud, everyone can enjoy the story together."

Dad decides to read the first chapter straightaway. Over the next few days there is a constant cry of "Can you read another chapter of Bush Boys, Dad? Please!" Everyone enjoys the story very much. They think it is a thrilling tale of adventure.

And the bush catechism? The boys soon learn all the questions and answers. Now Father Brown is keeping his promise. He is busy organizing his very own Bush Boys camping adventure.

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