The homestead and its cluster of outbuildings stood out like an oasis on the plain between the sand dunes of the Simpson Desert. Constructed of mud bricks and corrugated iron, the buildings huddled together cosily in a few acres of large shade trees, oleander hedges and various types of hardy shrubbery.
At the southern edge of the garden, an ever-faithful windmill drew water from a deep well to fill two thirty thousand gallon, stock tanks. These metered out water to a long line of drinking troughs which served a couple of hundred head of shorthorn cattle that grazed the dunes in a ten mile radius.
A hundred yards or so from the kitchen door in a north-easterly direction, the homestead dunny stood looking out over a dry creek bed with its complement of a dozen or so ancient trees. Exposed to the elements on all sides, the skinny iron structure perched shakily over a deep pit; a necessary evil banished to a spot on the edge of the oasis.
For the most part the creek was dry, but on the sparse occasions when heavy rains fell, it flowed half-heartedly to peter out a half mile or so further on, spreading out into a swampy area that became a welcome, if temporary, playground for birds and all sorts of desert creatures making the most of a rare windfall.
Janny had seen a variety of bush dunnies in her short life, and this one was not unusual except for its distant location and the instability of the floor underfoot. To feel the floor bow under the feet conjured up all sorts of unpleasant thoughts and she tried not to dwell on the horror of being unceremoniously dumped into the depths below.
It was a terrifying experience to be caught in the dunny when a willy willy scored a direct hit. The din of debris smashing against the iron walls was deafening and scary in itself, but the whole structure shook and trembled so violently that, more often than not, the door slammed opened to allow the occupant to be smothered with dust and red desert sand.
Having been cautioned about the dangers of redback spiders that lurked in dark corners, Janny was well aware that these creepy things were not discerning when it came to dunnies.
Always, after she had tentatively taken the few steps across the shaky floor, she inspected underneath the seat before settling herself upon it. Her imagination often ran wild, and on more than one occasion, she thought she felt something crawling on her bottom which sent her scurrying in panic.
In time, Janny discovered she felt safer if she left the door opened. It was reasonably pleasant to be able to look out over the creek and watch the galahs squabbling and screeching in a nearby tree. She like to see the flocks of green budgerigahs swoop past and on occasions, she’d spot an emu trio stalking majestically by on the far side of the creek.
While the galahs screeched and squawked in the leafy protection of the big gum’s mantle, three or four cows lazed in the shade below, chewing their cuds contentedly. They gave no indication they were aware of the dunny or its visitors, and Janny watched them with as much interest as the other inhabitants of the creek bed.
Having become accustomed to the nearness of the disinterested cows, she had not noticed that the space previously occupied by them had been taken over by the old roan bull. Therefore, when he heaved himself to his feet at the first sound of her approach and turned to face her, she was taken by surprise. She stopped dead in her tracks, overcome momentarily by the sudden quickening of her heartbeat, the sound of which seemed to fill her ears with a deafening thud, thud, thud.
When the bull made no further movement, Janny moved cautiously forward; one step, then two and then another. The beast remained quite still, following her movements with alert eyes until she disappeared into the dunny.
Once inside, her usual routine of checking for redbacks held her attention long enough to cause her to forget about the bull. It wasn’t until she had settled herself comfortably to the task in hand that she looked up to find her usual view blocked by the massive bulk of the roan bull. He was standing not more than three feet from the opened door.
She opened her mouth and emitted wild yells of terror. The beast’s ears twitched as he backed up a couple of feet, moving the great head from side to side in a gesture of discomfort. When her yells died away, child and beast eyed each other warily for a few moments, each waiting for the other to make the first move.
Janny sat as still as a statue while the bull simply stood, watching and waiting. After a moment or two he thrust out his head and sniffed the air. She tensed but remained still. He tossed his head as if to invoke a reaction from his prey, but still she maintained her statue-like composure.
Slowly and cautiously she slid off the seat and pulled up her pants. The bull pricked his ears and took a step forward. She froze and he stood there with tail swishing and head tilted slightly as he watched for her next move. She summoned all her courage and lunged for the door which she shut with a forceful bang.
She peeped through the crack in the door, hoping to see that the noise had frightened him away. He was still there with head outstretched and nostrils flared as he sniffed the air. Tears sprang to her eyes. She was trapped in the dunny with the redbacks, and now that the door was shut there was hardly enough light to see them.
There was a nail hole above the seat in the back wall. She climbed up and peered through it. She could see through the small hole very well and presently saw her mother emerge from the back door, carrying a clothes basket.
Jess heard her daughter yelling. She hurried down the dusty path to the dunny and chuckled when she found the roan bull curiously eyeing the closed door. She spoke to him affectionately as she opened the door and took her tearful daughter’s hand.
The bull made no movement other than to flick his ears forward. He watched for a moment or two as Jess led her daughter away, then he turned and ambled back to the shade of the tree where he dropped to his knees, grunting loudly as he settled himself down to chew his cud.
All through the long hot days of summer, the roan bull occupied the space beneath the bloodwood tree nearest the dunny. Whether standing quietly or lying sleepily chewing his cud, he faced the dunny doorﾅwaiting and watchingﾅ