The Compost War

Green fiction

*Published in Pearson Education’s Explore magazine.

The Compost War by Heather Gallagher

Really, it was the principal, Mrs Grubbo, who started the war.

It was a Monday morning assembly when she got everyone’s competitive juices flowing.

First, she appointed the new house captains. I was head of Bronte – again. It’s hard being Mr Popularity! Portia Farr for Woolf – kids actually groaned – and Kim ‘hottie’ Leong for Elliot.

But then, booming into the microphone as if she were presenting the Brownlow, Mrs Grubbo announced the Cool Compost Competition.

Most people kept whispering to their friends about what they’d done on the weekend.

‘What’s compost?’ somebody asked.

‘Compost is made from nature’s waste – earth, fruit and veggie scraps, worms and other bits and pieces,’ said Mrs Grubbo. ‘Compost makes the best soil, which produces the best veggies and, of course, the greatest tasting food.’

‘Now, this is a state-wide competition but I thought we could spur ourselves on by making it a competition between houses. The grand prize is $20 000 to buy a kitchen garden for the school! And the winning school will be on Gazza’s Garden!’

That was the clincher. Everyone started buzzing like a nest of European wasps. Kids might not care about ‘great compost’ but everybody liked the idea of getting their noggin’ on the telly!

Each house was allowed a pegged-off area on the oval to make their compost heap. Within days there were three teetering towers of rotting fruit and veg and other unidentified objects.

Kids became obsessed with collecting things for their house’s heap. Lunch scraps were stolen, school work was shredded and desperate kids were trading footy cards for worms behind the girls’ toilets.

Then one morning I arrived at school to discover kids queuing in front of the Woolf compost bay. I ran to the top of the queue and there was Portia Farr supervising kids turning the crank on a huge plastic barrel.

‘What’s that?’ I demanded.

‘It’s the T-Rex Tumbler,’ Portia purred. ‘It spins around and turns scraps into high-grade compost within days.’

‘That’s cheating!’ yelled Kim Leong, appearing behind us, her cheeks flaming. ‘You won’t get away with this!’

The next day all the Woolf kids got to school early, itching to spin the T-Rex. But something weird was going on. They massed around but kept a good quarter of an oval’s length away.

‘What’s the problem?’ asked Portia rushing over and then almost choking on the smell. Think of the world’s worst dog fart and you’d be half-way there.

Portia held her nose, opened the lid of the T-Rex and peered inside.

Her scream made one of the preps wet his pants. Mr Riley, the yard duty teacher, raced over and I gave up footy training as a bad joke.

The teacher turned the crank and a pile of rotten old fish heads and bones fell out.

‘It was Kim Leong,’ Portia screeched.

Later, Mrs Grubbo interrogated Kim and – when she failed to confess – lectured the rest of us about becoming too competitive.

That night, I stayed behind after school and did the only thing I could think of to help Kim get out of trouble.

I buried the fish bones deep at the bottom of our compost heap.

The next day the rumour spread like wildfire around the school. Some kid, Matty Davis, had planted the fish bones hoping to win Kim’s love by sabotaging Woolf’s compost. Weird.

Anyway, believe it or not, all three of our heaps made the final cut in the state-wide comp.

Mrs Grubbo was beside herself when Gazza arrived with his film crew to make the final verdict.

‘This is fabulous compost!’ he said, holding a Woolf sample in his hand. But he didn’t look happy.

‘I should know,’ he glared at Portia. ‘It’s Gazza’s Gourmet blend!’

Portia looked like she was going to cry.

‘I really wanted to win . . .’

‘How could you?’ Kim demanded. Suddenly, she grabbed a large handful of Gazza’s Gourmet blend and threw it at Portia’s sparkly sneakers.

Portia looked like a rabbit frozen in headlights. And then, she too grabbed a handful of Gazza’s Gourmet and piffed it at Kim. I got in on the act and handballed a heap at Mrs Crabapple – our prehistoric art teacher. Gazza threw a lump at Portia’s back. And kids from all over began throwing lumps of compost at each other.

Finally, Gazza shook the compost from his hair, pulled a banana skin off his shoulder and put two fingers to his mouth making a high-pitched whistle. As quickly as it had begun, the compost war was over.

‘Nothing like a bit of a mud fight, eh kids?’ he said, ‘Now, as you’ll all understand Woolf has been disqualified. But these two remaining piles top the state. My personal appraisal will determine the final winner.’

Everyone cheered. It really didn’t matter which house won because our school had won the $20 000 and we were going to be on telly.

Gazza held up a handful of Bronte compost.

‘Who is the captain of this heap?’ he asked, sniffing the compost as if it were exquisite perfume.

‘That’d be me, Gazza,’ I said.

‘This,’ he declared, ‘is the coolest compost in the state. Tell me son, what’s your secret?’

Before I could answer, he leant forward and said in an undertone.

‘If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you’d used some old meat in here, mate. It makes the best compost.’

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