The trip out to the settlement is “laborious and stressful,” as the roads are wet due to heavy rains. When the girls finally reach Moore River, it is dark. Matron Campbell goes inside and retrieves an orderly, who then takes Molly, Gracie, and Daisy from the car to a wooden building which will be their dormitory. The girls notice, as they approach, that the door to the building is covered in chains and padlocks, and that there are bars on all the windows. The girls think the building looks just like a jail.
As the girls arrive at the settlement where they have been told they will be sent to “school,” they begin to realize that things are perhaps not what they seem to be. Their first clue are the locks on the doors and the bars on the windows of their “dormitory.” The falsely altruistic front of a “school” quickly gives way to the cruel reality of the girls’ situation—they are at an internment camp.
The girls crawl into their beds, but cannot sleep on the hard, stiff mattresses. All three girls cuddle up in one bed, sharing blankets and clutching each other for warmth. In the morning, they are awoken by a woman pulling their blankets off of them, who then repeats the same action at every bed in the entire dormitory.
Alone in a strange and unwelcoming new environment, the girls cling to one another, taking refuge in their shared background and the bond of family.
As the girls in the dormitory rouse from their beds, a friendly girl named Martha Jones introduces herself to Molly, Gracie, and Daisy and offers to be the girls’ guide. She has been at the settlement for one year, and Molly estimates that she and Martha are the same age—about fifteen. Martha insists that things at Moore River are not that bad, and that the girls will get used to the place soon.
Martha is the first bright spot the girls have encountered at the settlement. She is kind, welcoming, and eager to help the girls fit in and feel less alone. Martha’s genuine kindness and compassion is the first the girls have encountered since they left home.
In the dining hall, the girls eat a breakfast of “weevily” porridge and lukewarm tea. The girls eat together with the boys, and, after the meal, Martha introduces them to her cousin, a boy named Bill. Martha tells the girls to return to their dormitory while she talks with Bill, and they do. Molly whispers to Gracie and Daisy that she doesn’t like it at Moore River at all, and the girls echo her fear and distrust of the place.
Though Martha attempts to make the girls feel welcome, less alone, and like things at Moore River will be all right for them, Molly, Gracie, and Daisy feel deeply lost, out of place, and dispossessed. They long for home, and for the comfort of the familiar.
After spending the rest of the morning talking and trading stories, Martha introduces the girls to her friend Polly, and the group decides to go for a walk around the settlement. Molly, Gracie, and Daisy are fascinated by the overflowing river which runs through the camp, and simultaneously miss the dry and rugged landscape of their home. As the girls continue their walk, Polly points out a big rock on the far side of the river, and warns the girls to never go there, as it’s haunted by “little hairy men.” Molly whispers to her sisters that they are in “marbu country,” and that they can’t possibly stay.
As the girls explore their new surroundings and pay even closer attention to where they’ve wound up, they realize that they are in very strange and frightening territory indeed. Though their fear of the marbu, or demon-spirits, can be seen as childish, for the girls it is a very real fear that is intimately connected to their culture and identity, and their instincts tell them more loudly than ever to get out of Moore River while they can.
Back in the center of camp, the girls pass a small grey building. A voice calls from inside and asks for some food and some tea. One of the girls asks Martha and Polly what the building is, and Polly explains that it’s known as the “boob.” Anyone enduring punishment is locked up and left alone there—sometimes for days. Martha tells the girls about a group of runaways who were locked up for a week, with nothing to eat but bread and water. Additionally, one of the orderlies shaved their heads and paraded them around the camp, lashing them with a strap. One of the girls asks whether anyone has ever run away successfully, but Martha explains that a “black tracker” working with the settlement always catches any runaways and returns them to the camp to be flogged and locked up.
As the girls realize the severity of the punishment they could be forced to endure if they run away and are caught, they begin to weigh their options a bit more carefully. Hearing about the violent punishments for runaways has the dual effect of frightening the girls of the prospect of attempting escape while convincing them even further that escape is necessary.
As the girls make their way back to their room, Pilkington interjects to describe the girls’ miserable surroundings. Their dormitory is more like a concentration camp, and the children who live at the settlement are decidedly “inmates, not students.” The girls have no sheets on their beds—linens are only brought out when there is an important visitor at the camp.
If hearing about the cruel and unusual punishments that “inmates” are forced to endure wasn’t enough to send the girls heading for the hills, their realization that the “school” is a sham and that their living conditions will be unendingly miserable certainly is.
Back at the dormitory, Molly, Gracie, and Daisy snuggle up on one bed and talk. Overwhelmed by all they’ve seen that afternoon, the girls begin to gossip together in their native tongue. A girl on the other side of the dormitory warns them that their language is forbidden and tells them to forget their mother tongue and speak English.
The girls are at Moore River for the purpose of learning to assimilate into white culture, which begins with being made to leave their native language and traditions behind. This is the first example of another girl warning them that they could actually be punished for speaking their own language.
After a dinner of watery stew, the girls lie in bed while the wind blows noisily outside their window. Molly takes in her miserable surroundings and listens as an orderly locks the girls in their dormitory for the night, realizing that she and her sisters must escape from the settlement at any cost.