Eddie and I hitched a chestnut hack to a sulky and headed out on the open plain in search of wild turkeys. We were responsible enough not to shoot indiscriminately at anything that happened our way so we had our parents’ blessing to provide the Sunday roast and enjoy ourselves in the process.
We left the township of Broome and headed north towards Derby until we came to an open plain about two miles square. We covered this area without so much as a glimpse of a turkey and the butcher’s paddock gate looked more and more inviting as time passed.
Eddie halted the horse. “I reckon we’d find a couple in there.”
“Well, if you’re game we could have a look-see. He went to Derby yesterday.”
“Are you sure?”
“Sure, I’m sure. I heard him say so when he was in Wong’s Store the afternoon before. He was going to Derby yesterday morning and coming back late tonight.”
“Right you are then. What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”
I opened the gate and we ventured into Jim Binny territory. There wasn’t a kid in Broome who didn’t give Jim Binny a wide berth. We all knew he’d done time for murder and the grisley business had a habit of surfacing as a bedtime story. I shuddered and glanced at Eddie who grinned cheekily.
The Butcher’s Paddock was an area of some ten square miles that enclosed the slaughter yards and abattoirs as well as Jim Binny’s cottage, which was located a half mile or so from the gate we’d just entered. We headed off to the right to avoid passing the cottage.
No matter how I tried to keep my mind on watching out for turkeys, the peace and tranquility of the bush in the winter afternoon sunshine lulled me, allowing gory visions to roll before my eyes as the often told story took hold of my imagination and filled me with unease:
The lone horseman’s voice droned on as his horse moved about the mob
of cattle. Most had settled down to chewing the cud, either standing
quietly or recumbent but some were moving slowly as they grazed. They
paid no heed to the nightwatchman as he rode by, singing through his
repetoire of bush ballads so as not to spook them.
In the eerie light of a sinking full moon the mob were stirring. Now and
again a beast was found to be straying too far afield and gently turned
back. Thoughts of a boiling billy were uppermost in the mind of the
nightwatchman as he scanned the bush in the direction of the camp, a
mile or so behind the mob, looking for the arrival of his relief. He halted
his mount when he saw the figure of the approaching horseman.
No sound came from the rifle as the bullet hit home and when its rider
fell to the ground the horse merely stopped and stood quietly, as a good
camp horse is never spooked. In just a minute or two more, the horse also
buckled at the knees and fell.
Binny looked down at the lifeless form sprawled on the ground near the
dead horse. He did not dismount. In a minute or two he moved off and
began quietly urging the mob on its way. By the time the first signs of
light appeared in the east the mob were well ahead and Binny rode into
camp to inform the other men that their mate had run out on them. He
sent them off after the mob, telling them he was going to try to catch up
with the runaway and bring him back.
With his men on the job and out of the way, Binny rode back to the scene
of his crime. He gutted the horse, placed the body of the dead stockman
inside and covered it all with a small mountain of dry timber, which he
then set alight.
It was a weary Jim Binny who rode into camp that evening. He told his
men he’d followed the boy’s tracks until he lost them in the heavy timber,
and mentally patted himself on the back when he detected no signs of
disbelief. The boy had been a disrupting influence in the camp since day
one with his grumbling and surly nature, so Binny reasoned the others
would accept his desertion without a great deal of thought.
A cold shiver went down my spine and I shifted uneasily in my seat. I could get by without a turkey dinner and I could only imagine what might be our fate if Jim Binny caught us trespassing. “Let’s get out of here, Eddie.”
Eddie shot me a glance and turned the horse. “Yeah, well there’s no sign of turkeys anyway.”
While I had been absorbed in my daydream, I hadn’t noticed we had traversed the paddock and now were obliged to pass the cottage to reach the gate. Apart from some articles of clothing on the line which were fluttering in the breeze, the place looked deserted. I could see no open windows and the one door in view was closed. I relaxed my grip on the rifle and began to breathe more easily.
I was taken by surprise when Eddie halted the horse at the side gate of the cottage. “What the hell…” I began in a stage whisper.
“Water.” Eddie replied as he jumped down and headed for the tap in the garden.
I watched him apprehensively and a little enviously as I became aware of my own need for a drink of cool water. I licked my lips but remained on the sulky. Eddie had satisfied his thirst and on his way past the line he flicked a fluttering garment and promptly forgot the need for discretion as his sense of fun took over. He removed the flimsy brassiere from the line, put it on and was capering about giving his own interpretation of a sexy female. I found myself laughing helplessly at his antics which spurred him on further.
“Hey! Get y’filthy hands off my washing.” An enraged female voice screached through the air and our eardrums sending Eddie scampering for the sulky, shedding the garment as he went.
We heard the sound of an approaching vehicle above the din we were making to urge the mare on. I looked back to see Jim Binny’s truck not half a mile away and heading for the cottage. By the time we had the gate in sight, he had reached the cottage and I saw his lady friend run to meet it. When it roared into life again seconds later, we knew without a doubt he was after us.
We tore through the gate, doing a sharp right turn to head for the timber line about half a mile away. We knew we had no hope of outrunning the truck in open country but in the timber we had small chance. The mare was fairly flying with the sulky wheels hardly touching the ground, and just two hundred yards from the safety of the timber and our hope of escape, the right hand wheel of the sulky struck a stump hidden in the grass. Arse over tip it went, spilling us out to sprawl in unainly heaps on the hard ground. The mare came to a stop a few yards further on, giving a couple of whinnies by way of protest.
The moment I knew Binny was after us, I decided that I would shoot him if he caught up with us. I was certain that he, a murderer, would dispose of Eddie and I just as calmly and unfeelingly as I imagined he had disposed of his last victim.
When the sulky overturned I was holding a winchester 32 calibre lever-action rifle. Now I scrambled to retrieve it where it fell a yard or so from where I bit the dust. Frantically, I tried to load the thing only to find the breech had been jerked opened and was filled with dirt.
Jim Binny skidded to a stop in a gust of dust, flung open the door and in two strides had caught hold of Eddie as he scrambled to his feet, dispatching him sprawling to the ground again with one blow. Then he was coming for me.
I sat there shivering in my shoes and clutching the useless rifle. I couldn’t escape because I had suffered some painful damage to my right ankle in the fall. I looked into the fiercely glowering face as he towered over me and tried to steel myself against the first blow which I was sure would be a boot in the ribs.
“And who are you, you young bastard?” He growled.
I blurted my name and waited in terror.
“One of Emmy’s kids?” He asked as he stared at me.
I managed to nod and squirmed under his gaze. After a long and terrifying moment, he turned to the two black boys in the back of the truck and told them to right the sulky. Without another word he turned, jumped into the truck and drove back to his cottage.
Eddie and I were still shaking in our boots when we got home an hour later but we managed to concoct a feasible story to explain the accident and my broken ankle. Neither of us ever breathed a word to a soul about our run-in with Jim Binny who must also have kept his own counsel, for our story was never questioned.
It was many years later that I met Jim Binny again. I was having a solitary meal in a Perth Pub when I happened to glance up and meet the eyes of the man at the next table. I recognised him immediately and the years fell away. He showed no sign that he knew me so I was kind of surprised that when he finished his meal he came and sat down at my table.
“You’re young Jeff Day, aren’t you?”
I nodded and offered my hand. “Yes. How are you, Mr. Binny?”
He grinned. “Y’can cut the mister, son. I thought you were in Java.” He noticed my surprise and grinned again. “Your Mum’s always been a good friend to me,” he explained.
“I didn’t know,” I murmured dumbly.
“Y’ wouldn’t know that, son. Emmy was the only one who didn’t judge me. I never told her I nearly beat the hell out of you, y’know. Not that y’ didn’t deserve it, mind you.”
I didn’t know what to say or how to ask the questions that were popping into my mind. I felt uncomfortable and wished he would go.
“I never was a murderer. Sure I did time; but for manslaughter.” He stated, answering questions I hadn’t voiced.
Again he read my mind as I failed to conceal the fact that this was news to me.
“Y’didn’t ever hear the true story did you? It was years before I found out about the yarn the Broome kids passed around – it was a true story I believe but had nothing to do with me. Funny how these things get started.” He sighed and offered his hand, “well, it doesn’t matter now but it sort of knocked the stuffing out of me when I realised how close y’came to using that rifle, if y’know what I mean.”
I certainly did know what he meant and I ought to have told him I had learned a valuable lesson that Sunday afternoon when Eddie and I thought we’d had a run-in with a murderer.