The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents - Lin­nell Barelli Re­view this­life@theaus­tralian.com.au

As a kid he was often called Lefty. Some footy mates cheek­ily called him Shark Boy. And to the kids of the Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity we lived in, he was known as Mara Wiwa, which means “no hand” in the Pit­jan­t­jat­jara lan­guage.

My hus­band has just one hand. His left arm ends in a knob­bly stump at his wrist. I see some adults look at his stump and then look away im­me­di­ately. I don’t know if they are em­bar­rassed, shocked or maybe just don’t want to ap­pear rude.

The thing is, we don’t no­tice it any more. Some­times I won­der why peo­ple are look­ing at us … then I re­mem­ber and think, “Oh, OK, they’ve just no­ticed Greg’s hand.”

Adults hardly ever ask about it. I have a friend who waited three years to sum­mon up enough courage to ask me about it. She called in to see me on a pretty triv­ial pre­text and then just blurted out sud­denly, “What hap­pened to Greg’s hand?”

But chil­dren ask all the time. They’re not em­bar­rassed — they just go straight up to him and ask: “Where’s your hand gone?”

Greg’s usual re­sponse is, “What do you think could have hap­pened to it?” He’s in­vented nu­mer­ous sto­ries that he shares with them, de­pend­ing on their age. My favourite one is his croc­o­dile story. He tells them that he went on a croc­o­dile cruise in Dar­win once, and was asked to hold out a chicken for the croc­o­diles to jump up and grab for their din­ner. He tells the kids that the op­er­a­tor asked him to hold out the chicken but didn’t tell him to take his hand away. The kids just stare at him, their eyes open wide with amaze­ment.

Another favourite is his shark story, which he em­bel­lishes from time to time, de­pend­ing on the age and in­ter­est of the kids. The ba­sis of this ac­count is that one day when he was surf­ing a shark came up and bit his hand off while he was pad­dling back to shore. The younger the au­di­ence, the more blood there was.

We lived in an Abo­rig­i­nal com­mu­nity a few years ago, and as soon as we ar­rived the kids stared at Greg’s hand. I don’t think they had seen any­thing like it be­fore. Af­ter a while they got used to it and liked to high-five his stump when­ever they saw him. They would laugh and call out and crowd around him, some of them ini­tially too shy to touch his stump but oth­ers keen to see what it felt like. The kids would like to swing on his stump too — sev­eral kids could hang on it at the one time.

But ev­ery time Greg tells th­ese sto­ries about his hand, he al­ways ends with the truth: he was just born that way. It was just one of those rare things. When Greg tells them this, you see the kids stare at him for a minute or two and then look kind of dis­ap­pointed.

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