Fiction

Local giant

The Ashtown Giant will commit to devouring children at a reduced rate after protracted negotiations with local government ended in a surprise agreement at Ashtown Town Hall Thursday.

After calls from community organisers to close his operation, the Ashtown Giant is now likely to continue his relationship with the town through to 2050. In return, the giant has agreed to reduce the percentage of local children in his diet. In a non-binding, in-principle clause, the giant has also agreed to phase out human meat eventually, though there is no set timetable for this move.

Hailing the outcome as a victory for the sustainability of Ashtown’s future, Mayor Marjorie Grand is satisfied with the giant’s promise to reduce child loss significantly.

“We are almost certain to meet our target of a 26 per cent reduction,” she said. “At that point we will revisit the target. This is well in line with global giant-related child mortality targets and more than adequate in terms of meeting our treaty obligations.”

Mayor Grand also took pains to reassure local businesses that the giant will remain a feature of the local area. “The giant is a proud part of Ashtown’s culture and history,” she said. “He will remain a valued part of our community and economy in the years to come.”

Critics argue that the 26 per cent target is lacking in ambition. “We will still lose a good percentage of our kids,” said Neville Wang, school principal and organiser with the Ashtown chapter of Stop Child Eating Now. “It’s pretty disappointing.”

Stop Child Eating Now and other local child advocates ran a fierce campaign to shut down the operations of the Ashtown Giant. The campaign appeared to be building momentum in the lead-up to the 26th Youth and Nutrition conference in Glasgow this November.

In the past month alone, seven additional countries have committed to reducing the consumption of children to zero by 2030.

Children between the ages of six and nine are randomly selected for the giant with an app developed by local entrepreneurs. In May last year, a group of children calling themselves Extermination Rebellion concealed the whereabouts of eight of the selected for several weeks, but the siege ended when the children were discovered hiding in an abandoned shearing shed. Twenty-two children were arrested but they were all too young to be charged with a crime.

“We need to ensure that the next generation understands what is reasonable, realistic and fair,” said Mayor Grand, who called for the age of criminal responsibility to be lowered. “The only way to prevent this generation from becoming militant radicals is by ensuring that they understand that these sacrifices are in their own best interests.”

There has been a giant, or giants, living on the hill above Ashtown since white settlement began in the area. Initially introduced to keep watch over isolated communities, most of Australia’s giants have since retired. Traditional owners have submitted repeated requests to state and federal governments to rehouse the giant elsewhere and help him to modify his diet. A spokesperson for the minister for Consumer Affairs stated that the government “will always stand firmly behind strong community-giant relationships” and that “if the giant threatens to leave Ashtown, we’ll just get another one”. The minister has not ruled out proposals to replace the giant with a taxpayer-funded ogre or even a small dragon.

The prime minister, who has previously characterised public concerns about child-eating as “elitist wine bar nonsense”, again distanced himself from any responsibility. “I don’t talk to giants, mate,” he said, from the VIP corporate lounge of the Sydney Cricket Ground. “Giants are an issue for the states to deal with.” Several prominent lawyers have since stated that there is no constitutional basis for this claim.

Federal subsidies to giant-related infrastructure and tax breaks for giants currently amount to $10.2 billion annually. Sources close to the giant, who preferred not to be named, said that he would have retired years ago if it weren’t for these subsidies. “He doesn’t even particularly like the taste anymore. Not to mention all the hairclips and Lego that end up caught in his teeth,” said one source.

Ravi Barnes, the giant’s personal tailor and president of the Ashtown Chamber of Commerce, who also provides dentistry, haircuts and banking services to the giant, stated his support for the new targets. “It’s more than enough,” said Barnes. “They don’t know how easy they have it. In my day we gave a child a week, you know. Three a month is nothing.”

When asked how much the giant spent on dentistry, Mr Barnes claimed this information was commercial in-confidence.

Independent councillor for Ashtown, Melissa Habib, has questioned the 26 per cent target. “In fact, the giant’s appetite is growing. On current projections, the 26 per cent figure will only be achieved by discounting the many children that are still imported from neighbouring towns. The Ashtown government should be looking at alternatives.”

Mayor Grand has accused Habib of “overemphasising technical details” and “encouraging the radicalisation of innocent children”.

“This is a good news story,” she insisted.

Ashtown families are compensated for any children taken by the giant with ongoing cash payments from the giant’s ample gold stores. One parent, who preferred not to be named, said that phasing out these payments would mean a significant loss of income. “If there were other work, it would be alright,” said the parent. “But there’s nothing. So you’ve got to live with yourself, somehow.”

The giant was contacted for this story, but was not available for comment.

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Sep 11, 2021 as "Local giant".

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Jennifer Mills is an author, editor and critic. Her latest novel is The Airways.