Against The Odds

As he drove to the cricket ground, Chalky weighed up the odds and found them stacked heavily against his team. They had clawed their way to the grand final and now were going into the match as underdogs, tipped to go under to the minor premiers’ superior batting. The Westsiders had only lost two games this season so their confidence was running high.

Chalky and his team reckoned they had a slim chance of winning the Premiership but that was before they lost their two best batsmen. The Pub Team had struggled all season because of poor batting and now, without Stu and Jim, the outlook was very poor indeed.

He stroked his chin thoughtfully as he searched his mind for a possible solution. He smiled wryly as he recalled how nonchalently the team dismissed the problem last night. “She’ll be right, skipper,” Mac boomed as he drained his schooner and raised it above his head, “I’ve got an in up there; she’ll be jake.”

“Well Mac, old pal,” Chalky muttered as he swung the wheel to take the turn into the grounds, “we’ll be needing some sort of miracle to avoid a severe thrashing, so lets hope you went to Church this morning.”

The Pub Team lost the toss and were sent in to bat. The batting side provided the umpire and Chalky, being a bowler and a lower order batsman, took the first stint as umpire.

The pitch was the usual concrete slab designated to C Grade players but of the four they’d played on during the season, this was regarded as the most crude. The edges of the woven matting were frayed and worn at the creaseline as well as where it ended. It was perilous for batsmen and fielders alike if the ball happened to land on one of these edges and whizzed off any whichway.

Bowlers needed to acquire the skill of keeping an eye on the spot where they planted the foot at the time of delivery as well as the place they intended to pitch the ball. On this pitch, the tarred section between the stumps and the creaseline was a rough fragile surface that was prone to give way underfoot, allowing the foot to slide forward and under the matting. The result could be a hazardous follow-through after delivery.

The rough, uneven outfield spelled trouble for the unwary fielder who, diligently getting down to a ball racing across the field towards him, could be knocked senseless if it suddenly rose in the air an inch or so from his fingers.

Batsmen fared a little better, needing only to be alert for the crazy behaviour of the ball if it happened upon the edge of the matting or found a worn spot.

Despite the quirks of the number two ground, the Pub Team had never lost a game there and so they had come to look upon it with some affection. Each member of the team, whilst fiercely competitive with a strong will to win, possessed a relaxed attitude to the game which gave an immunity against being rattled by the eccentricities of the wicket and outfield.

Chalky, from his position behind the stumps, watched the opening bowler kick away a few pieces of gravel from the spot where he would plant his foot at the point of delivery, and he noticed the wary expression on his face as he went back to commence his run up.

The first delivery was a tame effort made a half a metre from the creaseline. The ball pitched wide, whizzing past the keeper as he lunged in a vain attempt to gather it in, and down to the boundary for four runs. Chalky signalled wides.

The bowler frowningly began to examine the crease, tapping down the frayed edges of the matting with his foot. Chalky moved forward and helpfully began to kick away some gravel and tamp down a spot where the tar was lifting. “Bloody dangerous, mate,” he said in a concerned tone, “a bloke could do his ankle in if he wasn’t careful!”

The rest of the over yielded six runs from the two playable deliveries. With his mind dwelling on the danger at the point of delivery, the bowler’s eyes were drawn to the placement of his foot rather than the placement of the ball.

Chalky felt he could afford to be magnanimous when, at the end of the over there were six runs on the board and both his openers looked easy. He offered a few words of sympathy and comfort to the hapless strike bowler and didn’t feel too badly that the bowler looked decidedly dejected as he went off to take up his fielding position at backward square leg.

A no-nonsense approach was taken by the number two bowler who thundered in from afar. Mutt, waiting for the delivery, looked a bit white around the gills as he tapped his bat up and down a couple of times, his eyes glued to the fast approaching figure. He watched the arm uncoil, saw the ball leave the hand and come toward him at a surprisingly easy speed. This gave him time to recover from his initial shock at the fast pre-delivery gallop and play a text book defensive stroke.

Mutt scored two runs off the next delivery, followed by a classic cover drive for four. This was too much for the middle order batsman of dubious ability called upon to open. His cup brimeth over with confidence and he could see himself like Bradman at his best, playing every ball with technical perfection and hitting up a score to remember.

“Watch it, Mutt old fellow,” Chalky muttered half under his breath as he interpreted the body language of his opener, “you are about to cop a bouncer to take you down a peg.”

The delivery was pitched short and the over-confident Mutt was taken by surprise. Too late he tried to duck, instinctively raising the bat to protect his head. He yelped as the ball struck his hand, sending the bat flying into his stumps. As the stumps trembled and the bails fell, the wicket keeper was engrossed in making a spectacular diving catch. The field rose up in elation thinking one way or the other Mutt was gone.

It took a few seconds before it dawned on everyone that the umpire had called a no ball because it was above shoulder height. “Bloody hell,” the keeper moaned, “how bloody lucky can you get?”

Mutt’s confidence was shaken somewhat and as he faced the next delivery, the pain in his hand was a grim reminder of his recent experience. Expecting another short pitched ball designed to keep him rattled, he didn’t move his feet at all, electing to reach out and take a swipe. He managed to get an edge to it and, to the absolute dismay of the second slips fieldsman, it went to ground a few centimetres from his outstretched hands.

Somehow Mutt saw out the over with his wicket intact and found himself licking his wounds at the non-strikers end.

On his way to his position behind the stumps, Chalky took a little time out to ensure the safety of the strike bowler. He made sure that his helpful concern was observed in order that the seed of anxiety be nurtured and kept fresh in the mind of the bowler.

At the end of the over, the score had advanced by six runs and Mutt was still at the non-strikers end. He removed his glove once again to inspect his injury. He winced a little as he flexed his fingers but noted with relief that he appeared to have escaped with all bones intact. An ugly bruise was apparent at the base of his index finger and it was still smarting painfully.

Gerry, facing the number two bowler for the first time, looked a trifle nervous and played defensively for the first two deliveries but managed to get the third away to the covers for a quick single.

Mutt expected the bouncer delivered to him and, determined to get even for the dull ache that throbbed painfully in his hand, he plucked it out of the air and hooked it high over square leg to bounce into the boundary for four runs.

The shot astounded Chalky and knocked the wind out of the bowler’s sails while Mutt himself did his best to look as though this prowess with the bat was not something new to him.

Obviously the bowler considered the shot something of a fluke because his next delivery was a repeat performance. It was dispatched to the boundary with the same force and judgement as the previous one. Scoring two boundaries from successive deliveries was medicine enough to kill the pain of the bruised hand and repair the damaged confidence. Mutt looked set to hit up a hundred.

During the seventh over however, the strike bowler forgot about the dangers lurking at the crease and bowled a dilly of a yorker to claim the wicket and send Mutt off to the sidelines.

Soon after Mutt’s departure, Gerry snicked a catch to second slip which had Chalky groaning inwardly. Then lady luck showed she had not deserted the Pub Team when the mid wicket fieldsman dropped a sitter of a catch. The bowler bellowed his displeasure and delivered the next ball with malicious intent. Chalky was delighted to yell “no ball” when he overstepped the line on delivery and the batsman survived being clean bowled.

Somebody up there was looking after the interests of the Pub Team, Chalky thought to himself – Mac must have gone to Church this morning.

The Pub Team were in bad shape after thirty overs however, with the score at six for seventy. Chalky had handed over the umpiring to Mutt and was padded up and ready to take his place at the crease. Meanwhile, Mac and young Steve the wicketkeeper were out there doing their best.

Mac survived long enough to add three runs before holing out while trying to hit a six over mid wicket. Chalky joined Steve and was run out after making eleven. When Steve finally succumed they were nine for ninety-two.

With two bowlers at the crease and just three overs left it was a last ditch effort. Tanker Gilbert swung his bat in the style of a baseballer and smote a rapid fire twenty runs. The last wicket stand of twenty-four runs left the opposition with jaws agape.

With the respectable score of a hundred and sixteen runs to defend, the Pub Team took to the field with pumped up enthusiasm. To win they had to bowl well and they were determined to give it their best shot.

Chalky opened the bowling as usual. He was a source of amazement to his team mates, not so much for his ability as a successful wicket taker, but because he was not the healthiest looking specimen in the team. He was an asthmatic with a dicky lung that was inclined to deflate now and then and he suffered from arthritis of the joints. He compensated for his physical disabilities by outsmarting the opposition and hammering his men with his will to win.

With an attacking field set and his weak fielding link at fly slip where his excellent throwing arm would not be wasted, Chalky began his short run-up. Three little shuffling steps before settling into rhythmic strides, the right foot pounding into the turf at the crease on delivery and a loud ‘umph’ as he put his all into hurling the ball down the pitch.

The ‘umph’ for effort served as a red herring for his slow deliveries and helped deceive the batsman. Today it worked very well when he dismissed the opposition’s big gun for a duck with his third delivery.

Mac took up the attack at the other end and after a maiden first over, took two wickets in his second. Westsiders were reeling at three for eight.

In his enthusiasm, Mac tried to achieve the speed of Dennis Lilley and, in doing so, sacrificed the accuracy that served him so well in his first few overs. After one erratic over, the batsmen began to take advantage and the runs were steadily adding up on the board.

Chalky finally yelled his exasperation when Mac bowled his third wide in the over. “F’Christ’s sake, Mac, if y’don’t know where the bloody stumps are, aim for the bloke holding the bat.”

Already annoyed with himself, Mac reacted furiously to his skipper’s bawling out. He let fly with a string of invectives aimed at the game in general and stomped back to start his next delivery.

When he turned and started his run up he had a murderous look on his face which, coupled with the way he came thundering in, had the batsman shaking in his boots and looking as though the last thing he wanted to do was stay there and defend his stumps. The wicketkeeper didn’t look all that comfortable either as he crouched, pale of face, behind the stumps.

Mac unleashed the full force of his fury in the delivery to end all deliveries and found himself a victim of the wicket. He had planted his front foot a few centimetres to the right of the spot it usually landed upon. The next thing he knew he was fighting desperately to keep his balance even after his legs left the ground and the rest of his body bit the dust.

There was a short time lapse before the stunned field moved and he was surrounded by a ring of anxious faces. Cautiously he raised himself onto his elbows and spat out a mouthful of grit. Then he moved other parts of himself, muscle by muscle, as he tested for injury.

“Gee Mac. What sort of stunt was that? You okay?’ Chalky asked as he squatted beside him.

“Of course I’m not bloody okay” Mac growled and spat out more grit, “I bloody nearly broke my neck, didn’t I?”

Chalky grinned widely. It seemed only his pride had suffered. He watched as the big man hauled himself to his feet and began slapping the dirt off his whites. Someone handed him the ball and he turned at once to make his way back to have another go at completing the over.

After that a more subdued Mac continued the attack, capturing three more wickets in his second last over.

Westside’s fortunes were looking rather grim when they were eight down for seventy-nine runs, and when they lost their ninth wicket with the score at eighty-eight, the Pub Team had the sweet smell of victory in their nostrils.

They were anxious to mop up but the two tail enders turned out to be fighters who were not afraid to go for the runs. They put pressure on the field with cheeky singles and got away with three near run-outs.

Westside reduced the deficit to eight runs with three balls left. Chalky took a deep breath before he turned to start his run-up. He decided to try his slow ball since the man facing him had not picked it last over. As soon as the ball left his hand, Chalky knew it was a good one. The batsman’s stroke was too early and slowly the ball continued on towards the stumps, just brushing the leg stump enough to ease the bail from its mounting.

After a moment of stunned silence the Pub Team rose up in unison, shouting jubilantly. Chalky found himself surrounded by his team mates all trying to slap him on the back. “I told ya, didn’t I mate?” Mac grinned, “I told ya I got an in up there.”

“You did, Mac, but I took that as being the schooner talking.” Chalky looked at him thoughtfully. In his mind was a clear picture of Mac downing schooners and chatting up the barmaids. “Are you sure your influence is up there, Mac? I’d reckon it’d more likely be down …there!”

There was a good bit of laughter and Mac had the grace to look sheepish. “Well,” he said, “what the hell – we bloody won, didn’t we?”

Note: Errors and omissions excepted 🙂 A story written from tall tales told in a country pub’s beer garden.

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Out Of The Blue

“I’m sorry Melly, honestly! It’s been a long hard week and I’m exhausted.” Leila apologised after turning down Melanie’s invitation to dinner.

“Oh, come on Leila – I know it’s short notice but Peter only gave me a couple of hours’ warning. I wouldn’t insist except you are my best friend and it is important to Peter,” Melanie pleaded. “I really need you, Leila: you know I’d rather die than try and converse with a perfect stranger.”

And that, Leila thought to herself, was not the whole truth, but in the end she gave in as she always did when Melanie asked for a favour. This time she believed Melanie when she swore she had no matchmaking ideas in her head and that she knew absolutely nothing about the man Peter had asked to dinner.

In the past twelve months, Melly had introduced her to a succession of young and often handsome lawyers, architects, engineers and company directors, as well as an assortment of other unattached men with socially acceptable occupations or family background.

Melly was an incurable snob which was her only failing but Leila loved her dearly in spite of it. Most of those Melly thought a suitable match for Leila were either stuffy and full of their own importance or just plain dull.

As she lay relaxing in the tub of perfumed bubbles, Leila thought of Melly’s efforts to marry her off. Why, she wondered, did Melanie think she was unhappy and lonely because she was single?
Why was she still single at thirty? Wasn’t it because she liked it that way? Indeed yes, she answered herself. It wasn’t that she hadn’t opportunities and there were occasions when she’d thought seriously about marriage. It was simply that she preferred her life to be uncomplicated and serene. A husband would mean an end to such tranquillity – wouldn’t it? It sure would, she told her image in the mirror as she wrapped her wet body in a bathsheet.

A while later, dressed in a slim fitting silk suit with a designer label, she arrived at Melly’s front door. She was ushered into the loungeroom where she found herself being introduced to someone who had once broken her heart. And, she observed, as he got to his feet offering a large, tanned hand, he still had the power to stop her breath in her throat.

“Leila St. Clair!” He exclaimed with genuine surprise.

Leila watched her small hand disappear and then looked up to smile faintly. “Hi, Matt.”

“Oh, you already know each other!” Melly exclaimed with wide eyes, “I didn’t know … you didn’t…” her voice trailed away as she looked helplessly at her husband, only to be silenced by the look of surprise on his face.

With a smile, Matt gave Leila back her hand. The skin still crinkled at the outer corners of his eyes but it was more weathered and the dark hair was greying at the temples. She blinked back into focus. “Oh..I’m sorry I…” she felt the warmth rising to her face and knew she was turning red. “It’s so unexpected, I …you haven’t changed Matt!” she managed to utter despite her discomfort.

“Well, you certainly have! I didn’t know you for a moment – you look superb.” He turned to Melanie and Peter who were still wearing looks of astonishment, “she was little more than a kid when I lived next door – a real tomboy, she was.”

“I was not!” she almost shouted, feeling the old hurt as if it was yesterday. “You just treated me like one – I was just the kid next door to you.”

“Now, now, children!” Peter chided with a chuckle. “Let’s not squabble – I would hate to stand you in a corner for the rest of the evening. Like a Martini, Leila?”

For the whole evening, Leila found herself slipping back down memory lane. Unexpected things triggered her memory – the way a lock of hair curled snugly behind his left ear lobs; the way he tilted his head back slightly when he laughed; the tiny scar….

She remembered how hurt she had been when he went off in his mate’s boat instead of coming to her birthday party. How crushed she felt when he broke their Saturday date in order to take Marilyn Turner to the theatre. “You’re a brick, Lee,” he told her, flicking her ponytail playfully. A brick, she thought bitterly, he didn’t give a minute’s consideration for her feelings. He couldn’t know her heart was breaking or hear her silent sobbing.

After dinner, when Leila helped to clear the table, Melanie took the opportunity to quiz her in the kitchen. “You are rather quiet tonight, darling,” she said, “you are feeling alright, aren’t you?”

“I’m fine, Melly. Just a bit weary, that’s all.” Leila answered.

“I think meeting your boy-next-door again has thrown you, darling,” Melanie ventured, “I’ve been watching both of you sneaking peeks at each other. Do I detect a certain….interest?”

“Oh stop it, Melanie. Stop trying to conjure up a romance. It’s just a bit strange meeting him out of the blue like this. I used to have a whopper of a crush on him back then.” She laughed softly. “He’s no doubt married with a couple of kids by now.”

“It will only take one well aimed question to establish his marital status, darling. I’ll …”

Leila didn’t wait to find out what Melanie intended. “I won’t stay for coffee, Melly – say goodnight to Peter for me and thanks for dinner.” She gave Melanie a quick peck on the cheek and hurried to the front door, collecting her bag and jacket from the stand in the hall as she passed.

When she parked her car in her own space in the unit’s carport she sat for a minute or two after switching off the ignition. She banged her fist on the wheel. “Oh damn, damn, damn ! You are such a fool, Leila, “ she told herself sternly, “ such a silly fool.”

Although she was a little unsettled for a few days, Leila succeeded in putting Matt Vance back into her past. At least, she thought she had until she looked up from her desk at Gibbs & Fyfe to find him standing at the counter.

It used to intrigue her how his face gave warning of an impending smile – his eyes crinkled slightly at the corners and the steel grey of the irises softened with a misty sparkle. He was about to smile now. She felt her heart flutter as it did all those years ago and she tried to look away. She swallowed the lump in her throat. “Hello Matt, what can I do for you?”

“Well, it is your lunch hour in …” he checked his wrist watch, “in one minute fifteen seconds? Since you ran out on me the other night at Peter Ford-Draytons, I think you owe me. Lunch?”

He saw a flicker of doubt in her eyes and quickly added, “I’ll lend you my bike.” She bit her lip and let her gaze slip away. “My board?”

She began to laugh then and looked at him with dancing eyes. “You’ll have to do better than that, Matt. I’m a big girl now – maybe if you come up with a ticket to the ballet?”

“Done!” he grinned. “Hurry then, you are wasting precious minutes.”

They bought sandwiches and coffee in lidded polystyrene cups at the park kiosk; then they found an unoccupied bench under the spreading branches of an old Moreton Bay Fig. Seagulls flocked to beg; first one lone bird to which Leila threw a small crust, and almost before the morsel reached its recipient, there was a squabbling flock around them.

“Now you’ve done it,” Matt laughed. “I’ll bet they think you’re a soft touch.”

She tossed another crust and watched the flurry of birds descend upon it. “Remember the pelicans, Matt? I wonder what happened to Mr. Percival and that daffy one-eyed gull we used to feed.”

“Oh yes, I remember. It is all so vivid. Do you remember when you let the air out of my bike tyres and when you tossed the car keys out of the window? Do you remember me spending hours crawling around in the bulldust looking for them?” Matt finished off his coffee and stuffed the paper from his sandwich into the empty cup.

“Yes. I’ll bet you don’t remember why I did those awful things though. I’ll bet it didn’t occur to you that I was sick and tired of being taken for granted.” She crumpled up her sandwich paper, picked up her empty cup and went to the litter bin a few yards away.

He reached over her shoulder and dropped the coffee cup into the bin and then his hands were on her shoulders. He turned her to face him. “Give me the chance to make amends, Lee,” he plucked a twig from her hair, “I took longer to grow up; I need a chance to get to know you again. I have a feeling I’ve found something I’ve missed.”

Even before she allowed her eyes to meet his she knew he was going to kiss her and there was nothing she wanted to do about it. Her lips trembled under the warm, soft pressure of his. A mental picture flashed in her mind. A picture of him grinning at her, flicking her hair playfully, you’re a brick Lee …he was laughing.

“Do I get my chance?” he murmured against her lips.

“Maybe,” she whispered.

He kissed her again, a long tender caress. Suddenly she knew the girlish crush had long since turned to love. Meeting him again had rekindled the flame that had been burning quietly within her through the years. At the same time she realised her vulnerability and a shiver of fear ran through her with the memory of the old hurt.
In his eyes she read sincerity. She reached up and touched his face. “I gave up hoping you’d notice me, do you know that? And now, when you’ve finally done so, don’t think I will let you walk away without making up for all those years when you took me for granted!” She ran her fingers along the line of his cheekbone and down the jaw to his mouth where he caught her hand and kissed the fingertips.

“Oh no, Matt Vance – this time you won’t get away,” she laughingly threatened. Then her blue eyes widened, “you are still unattached, aren’t you?”

He kissed the tip of her nose. “Uh-uh; but not for long.”

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The Milking Girls

what is a cow?
A cow is a completely automatic milk manufacturing machine. It is encased in untanned leather and mounted on four vertical moveable supports – one in each corner.

The front end contains a cutting and grinding mechanism as well as headlights, air inlet and exhaust, bumper and foghorn. At the rear is the dispensing apparatus and automatic fly-swatter. The centre portion houses a hydro chemical conversion plant.

The conversion plant consists of four fermentation storage tanks connected in series by an intricate network of flexible plumbing. The central section also contains the heating plant, complete with automatic temperature controls, pumping station and main ventilation system. The waste disposal apparatus is located at the rear of the central section.

In brief, the external features are: Two lookers, two hookers, four stander-uppers, four finger-downers and a swishy-wishy.
(author unknown)

They come in all shapes and sizes. They can be timid, arrogant, highly intelligent ,dumb, friendly, aloof, placid or flighty. They can be hard workers or lazy idlers, stubborn, tough or soft sooks. Some are lovable, some are likeable and there are a few you can actually dislike to the point of hatred.

When we started out learning the ropes on our dairy farm, we wondered how we would ever recognise one cow over another. They all looked the same but then it became apparent that the udders were like fingerprints and we found ourselves referring to ‘the one with the long teats’ or ‘the one with two black teats’. It took a couple of weeks to come to the realisation that cows are like people with individual personalities and soon we were giving them names.

My first experience with a dairy cow was the jersey house cow I acquired when we were happily hobby farming. Dolly was stubborn, gentle, intelligent and loving and we understood each other perfectly. At piccaninny dawn I would go to the shed and call her. “Dolllllleeee,” and from the gully below her answer came wafting up, “Mooooh”. Ten minutes later and there was no sign of Dolly and I would repeat the call and receive an answer immediately that sounded a little closer. She was eating her way up to the shed.

Dolly would arrive after fifteen to twenty minutes, depending on where she happened to be when she heard my call. I’d put what I called her necklace on (it was a loop of string) which told her she had to stay put until I had finished milking her. I gave her a measure of grain-meal to eat and she had a lick block when she’d finished it. More often than not she would rest her nose on the block and snooze while I milked on. If I asked her to feed another calf she took it on and looked after it as she did her own.

When we took on dairying, Dolly joined the herd of friesians and immediately took her place as a bossy matriarch. My menfolk complained at having Dolly in the milking shed because of her pendulous udder and short legs which meant one almost had to lie on the floor to get the milking machine cups in place.

Soon after entering the dairy industry I had done a course to learn artificial insemination and I used this new skill to inseminate Dolly with jersey semen. She presented me with a delightful jersey heifer that first year. She became Little Dolly and had inherited her mother’s looks and temperament. She held her own against the bigger friesian heifers and we’d watch with delight her tactics to gain access to the grain feeder. She’d back up a few metres and then charge the black/white backsides which on impact, parted like the red sea for Moses, and she was in.

We began naming the cows in the herd as their personalities and idiosyncrasies were noticed and appreciated. No. 85 became Curly because as soon as settled herself in the bail she’d toss her tail up onto her rump in a nice circle. No. 517 became Rogue because she was always found where she shouldn’t be and No. 78 became Ultimate as my son declared she was so smart she knew the answer to the ultimate question (Hitchhikers Guide to The Galaxy). No. 76, a handsome black cow became Trombone (76 trombones in the Orchestra…) and later became the mother of Trumpet, Oboe, Clarinet, Cornet and Flugelhorn.

Naming the cows meant it was easier to remember and identify which heifer came from which cow. We had the Greek Alphabet. Alpha produced Beta, Gamma, Delta and Epsilon. Wombles was the mother of the flavoured milks: Moove, Choccy Moove and Hi-Lo. Biggus was the mother of Die Fledermaus but the operas got no further as Biggus had a run of bull calves.

Before the first year drew to a close all but one cow was named and answered to that name. No. 44 went from being a pushy cow to one who hung back at the rear of the herd to be among the last eight into the bails. I thought she was feeling left out because she remained un-named and one morning as she came in to the shed, I told her she would now be known as Mrs. Weeks because I couldn’t think of any other name.

That afternoon when the first wave were settled in the bails I leaned out over the rails and called to Mrs. Weeks. “Come on No. 44 you are now Mrs. Weeks, don’t hang back there.” Five minutes later there was Mrs. Weeks jostling and pushing to get into position at the gate. I opened it and let her in to wait. After that, Mrs. Weeks was never found hanging back and the bonus was her increased milk production.

A favourite in the herd, despite the trouble she often caused us, was a big tall black cow with a flighty temperament. You would always pick her out in the bunch because her head, with alert bulging eyes, was always sticking up from the surrounding backs as she scanned the horizon so as not to be caught unaware. My son used to call her Biggus Ninety and that name stuck. She knew immediately if we were up to something unusual no matter how we went out of our way to slip things like drenching or using pour-ons for ticks into the daily routine.

A new procedure came onto the market for worming. It entailed the use of a sort of gun which shot a thick needle directly into the rumen dispensing a dose of worm medicine at the same time. It was a three second procedure and the cows were given their shot before they left the bails after they were milked – all expect Biggus that is. Her head came up out of the feed bin and those bulging eyes stood out like sticks. With absolute split second timing, she jumped and the shot of worm drench splattered above the bail door as she made her escape.

Curly had the distinction of being my first maternity case. She came and bellowed as close as she could get to our bedroom window at 2.30 am one morning. There was no ignoring her calls that were loud enough to wake the dead so I donned my overalls, picked up the torch and went to see what was wrong. Curly began heading for the bails as soon she saw me approaching so all I had to do was open the gates for her and follow. Once there I plunged my arm into a bucket of disinfectant and smeared it with a good slosh of lubricant and ventured into the warm depths of the vagina to find the problem. Luckily for me and for Curly it was not a difficult one – a minor mal-presentation where one foreleg is folded back and caught under the pelvic rim. I was able to push the calf back, straighten out the leg and bring it and the other one up into position. No soon was this done than Curly gave a huge push and the head popped out. I pulled on the legs while she continued pushing and the calf suddenly slipped out and landed with a splosh on the floor.

I had just enough time to grab the calf’s legs and pull it to one side as Curly backed out to inspect the fruit of her labours. It was a beautiful big black heifer calf and I felt so proud because I had artificially inseminated her with semen from one of Australia’s top AI bulls. I told Curly how delighted I was and how clever she was. For that praise I had my arm sandpapered with a big wet tongue. Curly’s calf was called Duchess and she would prove to be one of our most intelligent and lovable girls as well as the mother of three of our best cows, graded Excellent for milk production and conformation.

Katrina must have been a burglar in an earlier life. She was adept at opening gates and to stop her breaking and entering (with the whole herd behind her) we had to add a wire tie to each gate latch. There were several different types of closing mechanisms on gates on the farm and she had worked out how to open them all.

Ultimate was the herd’s electric fence tester. Once a cow gets to know that electric fences ‘bite’ they respect them whether they are on or off, but not Ultimate. Every couple of days you would see her go up to the electric wire and touch it with her nose – if she got a jolt she retreated and that was that, but if she didn’t get a jolt she’d either push the post over and walk in (with the rest of the herd hard on her heels) or simply continue on her way taking the wire with her as it unreeled.

One day No.1 son, Phillip, threatened Ultimate with a one-way ticket to the sale yards. After he had put the herd back on the right side of the fence and re-set it, he had to ride about 200 metres to turn the electricity back on. Ultimate waited until he was about 50 metres away before she’d knock the post over and they were through once again. It was the fourth time before he blew his top – he tried to evict her and she dodged him with ease, kicking her heels up as if it was a big game. Strangely though, she must have known the consequences would be dire if she did it again so she very calmly went and began to graze the designated strip.

We bought Marlene and four others at a dispersal sale. When John was loading them onto the truck for the journey home, her previous owner’s small boy was watching a little sadly. “You’ve got Marlene, Mister. She’s our very favourite cow.” John assured him we would love her and look after her so as we drove away, he waved and there was a smile on his face.

The reason Marlene was a favourite cow soon became apparent. Her temperament was laid back and placid. She loved being stroked, brushed and talked to. Anyone could walk up to her in the paddock and stroke her or even
put a pail underneath and hand milk her where she stood. She was happy to have small children ride on her back. She gave us four lovely heifers that inherited her temperament.

Marlene’s first calf we called Munny and she was followed by Gemma, Jemima Shaw and Petula. These are memorable girls not only for their temperament and good milk production but because there was no way on earth either one of them would be ‘driven’. They would happily follow though. The first time we came up against this peculiarity was with Munny when she was about 8 months old and we were taking her group out of the ‘kindy enclosure’ and up to the ‘primary school paddock’. The route to the primary school paddock meant we had to cross a shallow running stream and the group of heifers baulked and refused to cross. However, we managed to persuade them all except Munny who resisted every attempt so that for half an hour or more, we pulled, pushed, slapped and yelled, inch by inch and finally got her over the other side.

Exhausted now, we went back to get the three that had returned while we were dealing with Munny and were astonished when Munny followed us quite unconcerned. She followed us over again as we shooed her mates across. She would follow but not be pushed. It used to amuse our neighbours to see us driving our herd from here to there with two, three or four cows walking beside us or at our heels like overgrown dogs.

Little Dolly often caused some amusment as she reached maturity. She was pretty much a clone of her mother and incredibly stubborn. I asked my boys to bring her up and let her run with the herd so I could AI (artificially inseminate) her when came into season. Sometime later I heard the tractor horn blowing and went out to see if there was a problem. Phillip was driving the tractor which was towing the trailer we used to dispense hay to the cows in the night paddock. Standing in the trailer with Geoff grinning widely with his hand on her shoulder, was Little Dolly looking for all the world like Queen Victoria. She refused to walk up the hill we called Cardiac Pass so the boys went down with the tractor, tipped the trailer so it was about six inches above the ground and Little Dolly walked on and got a ride home.

There were so many characters in the herd over the years. Duchess learned how to count and dispense extra grain to herself as she was milking. By now we had a new Herringbone Shed. We pulled a cord to dispense a serve of grain to all twelve bins at the same time. There were also individual cords for each bin so that we could give more grain to the fresher cows. Duchess used to go to the dairy about half an hour before milking time and pull the master cord to fill all twelve bins. Then she ate her way from No.12 bin up to No.1 bin. When she’d cleaned it all up she walked out and joined the herd to await the call for milking. Now came her piece de resistance – she would stand at the bails entrance and let eleven cows pass her so that she got the number twelve position. When she had eaten her serve of grain, she would ease her ample rump out from behind the barrier and, without disturbing the cups, would edge back far enough to take hold of the cord with her tongue and pull it to give herself another serve of grain.

I used semen from beef bulls to inseminate those cows we did not want to keep heifers from. I used Murray Greys or Angus bulls because the calves were small and unlikely to cause calving problems. I took a liking to the Murray Greys and began rearing small groups of heifers. One of these was a character and I called her MG. I sold the others with a calf at foot, but I couldn’t part with MG. My menfolk complained and said I couldn’t have an ornament on the farm; it was a business and so on, so when she had her calf (which we lost it after a difficult calving which left MG with calving paralysis) I put her in the milking herd. Because of her paralysis from which she was still recovering, I hand milked her for a few days. I was taking her into the bails the first afternoon and she baulked at walking on the concrete and ended up doing the splits.

“Mum,” my son said with annoyance, “it is no good mucking around with that dumb animal! Send her to the sale yards.”

I thought about this, almost in tears at the thought of selling her and got a bright idea. I found a piece of rope and hobbled her back legs so she couldn’t do the splits if she slipped. The blokes shook their heads and refused to even help me. However, MG took a few tentative steps, felt secure so walked nicely across the concrete yard and into the bails. When she finished milking and the gate opened to let her out she did so with confidence and then waited for me to come and undo her hobbles. This was a routine that amused the blokes as well as visitors for the weeks it took MG to recover fully from her paralysis.

It was the interaction between human and animal that made the long hard slog of dairying enjoyable. Our cows were like extended family. By the time we exited the industry, I had reared more than two hundred of the two hundred and eighty cows and calves that made up our herd. Each and every one had a name as well as their herd number, and each and every one answered to her name. It broke my heart to hold the dispersal sale and see my girls go. I know some found loving homes and I hope the others were happy in their new herds.

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He turned up one morning at the homestead gate. The broad primitive features were wizened with age and framed by a full head of snow white hair. Well, it would have been snow white had it been washed in the last decade. He stood tall and straight, seemingly anchored to the ground by a pair of ugly, flat, heavily calloused protuberances which spread out from beneath the ragged khaki trousers.

“What name, old man?” Jess asked as she reached the gate.

“Me wantem talk longa boss, Missus”, he answered in a quiet, gentle voice.

“Boss out longa cattle, old man. You bin come back longa sundown. ‘Im bin here then, Okay?”

He looked uncertain as he transferred his weight from one flat foot to the other and half turned to gaze back down the road. Jess questioned him further.

“Which way you bin come?”

He grinned broadly, showing a mouthful of even, tobacco stained teeth. “Me bin come longa Zim Smith. Me bin walk plenty long way.”

Jess smiled. “You bin proper hungry eh? Wantem tucker?”

He shook his head. “No wantem tucker, Missus. Me bin catchem plenty mob rabbit. Me wantem chob, wantem work longa this place.” He waved his arm in a wide arc. “Boss, im give chob longa me?”

“Might be boss givem job longa you,” Jess answered. “What for you bin leave Jim Smith – im bin fire you?”

“Ooooh Missus. Im proper bad bugger!” He rolled his eyes and grimaced painfully. “No go back missus, no more work longa Zim Smith. Johnson no go back longa Zim Smith.”

“You bin called Johnson, eh? Well Johnson, you better sit down and wait longa boss. Im come at sundown”.

Johnson took up residence by the gate until evening when Charlie rode home ahead of the plant horses. Charlie thought he was a bit long in the tooth for a job, but told him he could look after the garden for the Missus. He was somewhat taken aback when Johnson declared that he wanted a ‘proper chob’ and ended up telling the old fellow to come up to the homestead at sun-up and he’d find him a proper job.

In the bush after the war, cement was as scarce as hen’s teeth even if the price of it had not been prohibitive, so clay was used to line stock tanks and troughs. It was always handy to have a stockpile on hand and Charlie decided this was job Johnson might find appealing.

After equipping him with a camel and dray, Charlie took him out to the clay pans, impressing on him it was important that he bring home good quality clay and not ‘rubbish dirt’. Satisfied that Johnson understood, Charlie mounted his horse. “You fillem up dray and bring em back – no rubbish, only good clay!” Then, as he turned his horse he added an afterthought, “and don’t lose that bloody camel!”

Because Johnson was an old man, Charlie wasn’t particular about his work hours and there were no hard and fast rules laid down, so long as he turned up with a load of clay now and then. After awhile, both parties were happy with the routine Johnson set himself, even though his stays out on the clay pans were often lengthy.

“What you bin doing, Johnson?”, Charlie would ask when Johnson finally got back with a load which he presented for inspection. “You bin go on walkabout?” Then he’d listen with some amusement to Johnson’s story about how the camel broke its hobbles and how he’d had to track it for days. He spun a good story and Charlie marvelled at how he could tell the same yarn, yet add enough subtle detail to make it different.

Sometimes Charlie would grumble that he was a lazy old bugger and a man ought to do something about him. After all, he was so bloody old he could turn his toes up and die out there and it was a damned nuisance having to keep an eye out for him.

Every so often he had a heart-to-heart talk with Johnson in an attempt to persuade him that it was about time he retired to sit down in the camp with the other old blacks. Johnson would have none of it. “No ploody fear!” he’d say earnestly, “no good sit down hall day – me do good chob longa you eh?”

Charlie’s young daughter took to watching for Johnson’s return from the clay pans. Every day, when the sun was getting low in the western sky, she walked down the dusty track to the creek, ever hopeful that she would be able to hitch a ride home on the dray with Johnson.

Janny invariably went bare-foot despite Jess’ scoldings and demands that she wear her shoes.
Do you want to end up with Johnson’s feet?” she cried in exasperation one day after yet another scolding.

The little girl had not noticed what sort of feet Johnson had but her mother’s tone suggested they weren’t nice things to have, so she shook her head solemnly.

“Then wear your shoes, my girl or you will grow up with feet like Johnson.”

For days after that Janny wore her shoes and waited impatiently for Johnson’s return so that she could have a good look at his feet. In due course she met him at the creek and as she was scrambling up onto the dray to take her place beside him, her eyes focused on the huge, ugly feet.

Mimicking her mother almost verbatim, she took him to task for not wearing shoes. When she had finished, Johnson stated flatly, “Not need em boots, halways not need em.”

It had been puzzling Janny as to the reason why Johnson had to go so far to get loads of dirt. She thought it looked just the same as the dirt in the garden and on the flat behind the workshop where she sometimes played; yet, they called it clay. One day as she was sitting up there on the dray with Johnson, she reached behind and dug her fingers into the heap. Frowning, she sifted handfuls through her fingers and finally exclaimed triumphantly: “This IS only dirt, Johnson!”

In her innocence, she couldn’t have meted out a bigger insult. Johnson, placid and amiable Johnson who had never ever uttered a cross word to her, now exploded into angry action. With eyes blazing he halted the camel and hauled his little friend off the dray to plomp her firmly on the ground on the roadside. “That bin good ploody clay!” he roared, pointing a bony finger at her menacingly. “No more ride longa you, you bin walk halla time”.

Without further ado he was back on the dray, angrily muttering in his own lingo as he sent the camel off in the homeward direction. Janny, shocked and tearful, stood and watched for a few moments before she began to run in pursuit, her wails lost in the creak and rattle of the dray as it moved on down the track. To her eternal dismay, Johnson never ever forgave her.

At times, Johnson over-stepped the line by staying away for two weeks,, and once when he hadn’t returned by the middle of the third week, Jess began to worry. Charlie said he’d turn up in time and if he didn’t it was too bloody bad because he didn’t have time to be traipsing around the country playing nursemaid to a lazy old blackfellow. In the morning however, he went out on horseback to find him.

From a good distance away Charlie spotted the camel and dray under the shade of a lone tree on the plain, and soon it became evident that the dray was empty and the camel still hobbled. It’d be just like the old coot to have kicked the bucket, he thought as he urged his horse on. He was little more than fifty yards away when he saw that Johnson was flat on his back by the side of the dray.

Charlie dismounted and stood over the supine form, dead to the world in contented slumber. Beside him were the remains of a number of cooked rabbits, while at the base of the tree trunk, stacked neatly in a tall pyramid, was the cache of carcases he’d been living off for days.

“Daylight Johnson!” Charlie bellowed, incensed that he’d wasted hours of precious time on an unnecessary excursion.

Awakened so suddenly from the land of dreams, Johnson leapt upright with startling agility. Eyes bulging with fear and heart thudding audibly in his chest, he was on his feet and facing his attacker with spear poised before Charlie had time to think.

Seconds later, Charlie realised Johnson had recovered in the nick of time and he slowly let out the breath he was holding. “Jesus!” He swore softly with relief. Then he grinned at the contrite old man standing before him with head bowed. “What name, Johnson? You reckon kadaitcha bin get you, eh?”

“No boss. Me reckon maybe Zim Smith bin come longa Johnson.”

“Right oh, Johnson. You bin long time catchin’ rabbits – missus bin worry longa you.” With that Charlie mounted his horse and turned it towards home. He looked back a few minutes later and Johnson hadn’t moved.

A few days later, Johnson turned up with his load of clay and this time Charlie didn’t prompt him for a yarn. Johnson made no apologies for being caught napping and he continued mixing work and leisure, but he always turned up before anyone had the notion to go looking for him.

If you happen upon some clay pans out in the bush in Central Australia and you see a grassy area where a lone tree stands tall and shady, approach quietly and you will be sure to see a supine form slumbering contentedly beside a neatly stacked pile of rabbit carcases. Don’t disturb him; leave him to dream on.

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Written In The Wind

Some things just aren’t meant to be. I came to this conclusion after I had come to terms with the loss of a premature calf I almost succeeded in raising.

Bubby, a temporary name I gave her because I had little confidence in her survival, entered this world seven weeks and three days earlier than her expected time of arrival. Her mother, a heifer and a novice to motherhood, seemed unaware that anything untoward had happened. The pathetic little creature expelled so unceremoniously from the warmth of the womb, lay helpless in the now cold mucus and residue of her birth sac.

She was not much bigger than a cat with just a sparse covering of a coat. She was so small and frail that I felt she had no hope of survival, yet she latched on to my little finger and sucked enthusiastically. I rang the vet.

When Gavin answered my call he sighed and even though I couldn’t see him, I knew he was shaking his head. “She will just break your heart, but I know you’ll try anyway!”

It was late autumn but still quite warm. Bubby was wrapped in a molleton rug and surrounded by hot water bottles. We lit the pot belly stove and placed a bowl of water nearby to provide warm humid air. I thawed a litre of colostrum kept in the freezer for emergencies, and fed Bubby two hundred and fifty ml from a bottle with a special floppy teat.

For the next week it was a constant round of two hourly feeds. After the first night, I brought in the large wood box which I lined with a woollen blanket covered with a plastic sheet. On this sheet I placed several old towels and molleton baby rugs. All of these layers had to be changed and washed several times a day so the washing machine was constantly in operation.

Bubby grew stronger with each passing hour. She was on her feet at 24 hours old and in just two days, was clad in a jumper so that she could explore the front garden for short periods during the warmest part of the day.

The first crisis came unexpectedly when she was six days old. She threw herself down on her side and kicked at her tummy. Her breathing became shallow and laboured and I rang Gavin for help. I thought she was dying and when he arrived and saw her he wasn’t too optimistic either, and he wasn’t certain as to what was causing her problems. She had a temperature and although she appeared to be kicking at pains in her belly, Gavin could find nothing wrong.

After a painkiller and an antibiotic injection, Bubby began to show signs of improvement in an hour or so. She still had a raised temperature and refused her feed but her breathing was normal. It was simply a matter of nursing, hoping and getting as much fluid into her as possible.

I was required to write down her intake, output and temperature recordings and relay them by phone to Gavin twice a day. I had to give her the antiobiotic injections until her temperature dropped back to normal on the fourth day when the injections were discontinued. She had recovered from whatever ailed her.

After her small setback, she began to thrive. She had the run of the dining room and breakfast room which were carpeted and I spent my time running after her with a bowl to catch the puddles. When I was unable to watch her, I placed her on a rug in the middle of the lounge-room’s polished floor. She quickly learned that to leave the rug was to invite disaster on the slippery floor.

She was two weeks old when the next crisis struck. Once again her temperature shot up and she refused her feeds. She was pathetic in her misery and after two sleepless nights, I was sure we had reached the end. To make matters worse, I got down on my knees to tend her and found I was unable to get up because my knee had locked. I had to be taken to the doctor who promptly put me in hospital overnight. I was so unhappy because I felt Bubby would be dead by the time I got back home.

Hubby managed to persuade her to drink half a bottle and when I came home in the morning she got to her feet and demanded attention. It was only then that an idea crossed my mind. I looked into her mouth and discovered a couple of grinders in the back gums. Bubby’s crises were caused by teething! My boys had long since grown up and I had forgotten about babies and teething traumas. Gavin was delighted with my discovery as he had not thought of teething either. After all, full term calves have their grinders when they are born.

By the time she was four weeks old she had grown so much she could pass for a full term calf. She had taken to bunting the furniture and over-turning chairs so her days inside came to an abrupt end. She continued to sleep in her box by the pot belly at night until she discovered she could easily jump out of the box and go exploring.

In no time at all her curiosity outgrew the garden and she began finding ways to wander further afield. Having had no contact with her own kind, she viewed the herd with suspicion. I am positive she thought she was human or even a cat or dog, but as she viewed the cows through the fence she backed away as though thinking she was definitely not bovine.

Eventually she began to take an interest in the heifer calves in the “nursery” by the orchard and on occasions, broke in to romp with them.

Life was a bowl of cherries and she revelled in it. Her antics were a delight to watch.

The last crisis came unexpectedly when she was seven weeks and three days old. She didn’t come when I called her though she sat there watching me. Her eyes were not as bright as usual and when I encouraged her to get to her feet, she swayed on wobbly back legs.
By now she was much too heavy for me to carry so I put her in the wheelbarrow and brought her up onto the front verandah.

She was obviously in a good deal of pain so I called Gavin. For two hours Gavin tried to ease her pain but she didn’t respond. On the face of it she was a lovely healthy animal yet she was frantic with a pain he wasn’t able to alleviate and she died – she was seven weeks and three days old.

“I am so sorry,” Gavin said softly, “I really thought we had raised this one.”

I grieved for Bubby as I would have had she been a child of my own body. If her survival had been decreed she wouldn’t have died on the very day she was due to be born, would she? That is why I believe some things just weren’t meant to be. Perhaps the survival of us all is written in the wind.

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“Mum”, Ken called from the back door. “Got something for you.”

Jessie took the batch of scones from the oven , placed the hot tray on the sink and went to see what her son wanted. “What is it?” she inquired as she opened the door to see him standing there empty handed. He pointed to the ground at his feet.

“Oh! Oh my goodness, where is its mother?”

“I found him still in the breeding bag; the cow must have died as soon as she got him out. Old girl must have spent all her energy pushing him out. Anyway, I thought you might be able to raise him.” Ken looked at his mother questioningly. “Wouldn’t like to knock him on the head after all that trouble the cow went to get him out alive.”

Jessie looked at the poor little red creature all covered with sticky mucus. She nodded. “I’ll get an old blanket and you can bring him in on the verandah; he’ll need a feed quick smart.”

Jessie knew from her experience with raising lambs that she was in for problems and her chances of raising this calf were slim. He hadn’t had any colostrom from his mother so would not have any immunity to infection. Then there was the added problem of not having a teat to put onto a bottle. The baby teats she used for the lambs would be too small for a calf.

When the calf was installed on the verandah where it would get the warmth from the slow combustion stove on the other side of the wall, Jessie made up a milk formula. To each pint of half-strength milk she added a teaspoon of brandy and several drops of Pentavite. She used a worcestershire sauce bottle which had a narrow neck and its smaller opening meant more control over the flow of the milk. The first feed of two sauce bottles went down well and Jessie repeated the feeds every four hours.

When Charlie came home that evening he told Jessie in no uncertain words that she was out of her mind. “You need your head read, Jess. Everyone knows you can’t raise a calf when it hasn’t had its first feed from its mother.”

“Well Charlie, we’ll see won’t we?” Jessie replied showing her stubborn streak. “If it doesn’t survive it won’t be my fault, and anyway it won’t hurt to try.”

She referred to the calf as Joe because she was superstitious enough to think she would jonah him by not giving him a proper name. He became weaker by the day with the continual scouring so in between feeds of her formula, she fed him water containing salt and sugar together with a little bi carb soda. Every morning she was surprised to see him still alive. She cleaned him up and provided fresh bedding and hauled him to his feet to feed him. Every evening after she had given him his last feed of the day she’d tell him he’d probably be dead in the morning.

He was about two weeks old when he began to rally. He was pathetically thin but his eyes became bright and he began trying to get to his feet when he heard Jessie approach. The scouring had stopped and now Jessie began to increase the milk strength. A few days later he was quite mobile and needed to be moved out into the yard.

Joey grew stronger by the day. He learned to drink from a bucket and spent his days out in the home paddock where there was plenty of grass. He romped with two pet lambs and the family dogs. At first light each day he was to be found at the side gate waiting for his bucket of milk.

Ken was delighted to see the pathetic little creature he’d brought home growing and glowing with health. He’d take time out each morning to play with him before he left to do his daily station chores. One morning Joey bunted him from behind as he walked away. Ken turned quickly and ‘charged’, feigning anger. Joey dodged. Ken charged again. Joey dodged again and stood looking curiously in anticipation. Ken turned his back and bent over, presenting a still target, calling “Come on Joe, have a go.” Joey put his head down and charged and at the last moment Ken moved aside.

The game became a morning ritual. Ken began feeding Joey treats. He’d always have pieces of apple or bread in his pockets which he’d produce after their morning game. Joey learned quickly and would try to help himself. When Ken’s pockets were empty he would bunt him like a calf bunting its mother’s udder for more milk let-down.

Ken introduced Joey to the fruit of a vine that grew and wound its way up into the mulga trees. We called the fruit wild banana but the aborigines said it was ‘alungua’. The vine stems and leaves had a milky sap and the fruit was cylinder shaped with a thick green skin. Inside was filled with white silk, the top part covered in flat green seeds. The silk exuded a sweet nectar when chewed and the seeds had a nutty taste.

Ken stood on Joey’s back in order to reach the fruit, stuffing his pockets as he gathered them. On the ground again he fed Joey and when his pockets were empty, Joey bunted him until he moved on to another tree.

Joey’s penchant for alungua caused the rest of us a lot of problems. He would not allow anyone else on his back so we were forced to climb the tree and throw the fruit down to him. When there were no more left on the vine, Joey refused to let us get down out of the tree. We soon learned to throw the last few fruits as far away from the tree as we could manage to allow us time to reach the ground. We also learned to put as much distance between us and Joey because he’d gallop after us and keep bunting us up the nearest tree.

The shearer’s cook became a target for Joey’s pranks and she was terrified of him. She made the mistake of turning tail and running for home when she first came across Joey in the paddock. He saw her in the distance and, always on the lookout for a handout, he headed towards her at full gallop. Alice made the hundred yards to the shearer’s house with seconds to spare as Joey skidded to a stop at the gate.

Alice ventured out into the paddock most days after she checked on Joey’s whereabouts. It seemed to us that Joey kept an eye out for Alice. We’d watch with some amusement to see Joey grazing peacefully in the paddock and as soon as Alice emerged from the house yard, he’d quietly move across the paddock. When Alice was a couple of hundred yards away from her safe haven, Joey would appear as if from nowhere. We would hear her screaming blue murder and see her streaking towards home with Joey keeping pace a few yards behind her.

We all agreed that Alice would have had no trouble winning an olympic medal under Joey’s coaching.

Joey was about fourteen months old when he was moved out to the bullock paddock, an area of some twenty square miles. Ken kept a bag of feed pellets in the back of the landrover and whenever Joey saw the vehicle he’d turn up for a handout.

At mustering times Joey stuck with Ken like a dog and soon learned what it was all about. He began helping to yard the cattle and then to separate the cows from the calves once they were yarded. In time he became an essential part of the muster and valued highly by all the station hands.

Drought struck the Northern Territory with a vengeance and all saleable animals were trucked and sent to market. Joey was now a big beautiful bullock. The boss owned and lived on a property in Victoria and it was arranged that the breeding stock would be transported to Victoria. Joey was sent with them, leaving Jessie and Ken with heavy hearts. They didn’t believe the boss would keep a pet bullock that would bring a considerable sum at the saleyards.

Joey, however, lost no time in winning the affections of the boss. He made himself more useful than a dog and became a valuable station worker. Although David often sent notes to say ‘Old Joe’ is doing well, neither Charlie nor Jess really believed he hadn’t been sold for steaks. A year or so later when Charlie was on holiday, he called into David’s property and saw for himself that Joey was indeed alive and well. He had grown into a massive animal weighing almost a ton.

While the Northern Territory remained in the grip of drought, Victoria was being deluged with rain. Joey’s weight now caused huge problems. He sank into the sodden earth and David was forced on two occasions to hire a crane to lift him out of the bog. Fearing that Joey would meet his end in a bog, David reluctantly sent him to the saleyards in Adelaide.

Metro Meats paid a few hundred guineas for the huge Caupaul bullock and made headlines because David had announced the proceeds would be donated to the Royal Flying Doctor Service. A reporter’s curiosity was aroused when he noticed a group of children in Joey’s pen. They were sitting on his back and patting his big gentle face. Photographs were taken and the reporter, sensing a great story, sought out the seller’s agent. David was interviewed and he provided the detail of Joey’s beginnings.

Joey instantly became famous. Children and adults kept a vigil by his pen so that Metro Meats were forced to announce his retirement to a lush paddock where he’d be available for weekend visits from his fans. The gentle giant bullock who’d been raised on milk laced with brandy and pentavite, spent his remaining years in the lap of luxury, doted on by all who had the good fortune to meet him.


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Run-in With A Murderer

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.

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The Intruder

“You need time alone, Jen,” Stephanie told her as she pressed the keys to the cottage in her hands. “Go to Quiet Cove for the weekend; just relax and forget everyone else for once. Everything is there – you don’t have to do anything but get in your car and go! I’ll give you a ring in the morning”

Jennifer did just that. She got in her red mini and drove out of the city without a word to anyone. As she drove her thoughts went back to the moment nearly a year ago when Mark suddenly severed their year long relationship and walked out of her life. Again she felt the pain, the shock and the anger and bitterness that overwhelmed her in those first weeks. It was so hard withstanding the sympathetically knowing looks of her office colleagues and associates. It wouldn’t have been so bad had Mark not jilted her for her best friend just a few days before their wedding.

The departure of Mark from her life seemed to start a roller coaster of events that had her bouncing from one trauma to another. Her mother’s fall that resulted in a broken leg, followed by her father’s emergency appendectomy operation just a week later caused some anxious moments. After that, a series of minor mishaps occurred so that she felt drained and depleted of energy.

It was dusk by the time the little red car slowly bumped its way along the rough driveway to the cottage that overlooked twenty acres of Melaleuca scrub.

As she unwound her tall frame from the confines of the little car, she stretched out her arms to ease the tension from her neck muscles. She breathed deeply of the crisp clean air as a sudden gentle breeze gusted by, tantalising her nostrils with the salty odour of the ocean. First of all, she decided, she would make a cuppa and relax for awhile before exploring the cottage and its amenities.

A little later she was sipping tea and idly flipping through the pages of a magazine when she was startled by the sound of a man clearing his throat. Instantly her body stiffened and all her senses focused on the unexpected presence associated with the sound.

In the ensuing moments of silence, a passing thought that her imagination was playing tricks on her was dispelled when her ears picked up a soft snuffle. Then the coughing began. A fit of such painful hacking that she winced in sympathy.

No sooner had the coughing ended with a few painful rasping breaths, than someone whispered, “shush – be quiet!”

There followed scratching and scraping sounds that sent Jennifer into a spin. She looked around the room with wide frightened eyes seeking a safe refuge, or even a weapon with which she might put up some sort of defence. She could see no weapon and no means of escape.

“Shush – be quiet mate!” the same voice hissed.

“Oh, shut up” an irritable voice returned loudly.

Jennifer, still dithering in fear found a measure of courage. She remembered the telephone in the hallway and, slipping off her shoes, slid off the chair and began to creep across the room, her ears tuned to the whispering, scraping and scratching that went on like a broken record.

The creak of a floorboard stopped her in her tracks and she stood there holding her breath, listening to the all-engulfing silence. After a moment or two the sounds outside continued and she resumed her stealthy progress into the hallway. Just a few steps away the most wonderful sight in all the world, the telephone, her saviour.

She forgot to creep and all hell broke loose with yelling and shouting
and slapping. “Hey, look out!” “No. Over here, quick!” Jennifer ran blindly. Some seconds later she realised that the deafening screams filling her ears were of her own doing. She closed her mouth and looked around her.

She was quite surprised to find herself alone. Her hands were still clasped firmly on the door knob, the back door knob, which she now remembered she had been frantically trying to wrench off the door in her panic. In the dim light she could see a switch on the wall – she flicked it on and the entire back area lit up like a city street.

The sight beyond the back door; an outdoor living area plucked directly out of the glossy pages of a magazine, was so unexpected and so lovely that her fear dissolved. She unlocked the door and stepped out onto the patio.

“Hello!” A soft, pleasant voice greeted her, “say hello to Sam.”

Jennifer stared at the Major Mitchell sitting on the T-Bar perch to which it was tethered by a chain attached to one leg. She shook her head at the incredible thought running through her mind. “Sam? Oh no! Surely it couldn’t …” Her hand covered her mouth as though to smother a scream and then she began to laugh – a soft giggle at first and then hysterical laughter.

Sam fluffed up his pink crest. “Shush! Be quiet.” He hissed and scraped his beak along the perch.


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The Contract

Gerry is dead and I am rich. In a short space of time I would have been rich anyway, but not as rich as I am now that he’s dead.

A cold chill runs down my spine as I recall the events of yesterday. Domino heaves his heavy bulk from his position at my feet and with a concerned whine, places his head in my lap. “It’s okay, Dom,” I tell him and stroke him gently.

If I hadn’t loved Gerry, I would never have agreed to the farce that was our marriage. I really thought I had a good chance of a ‘happily ever after’ life because, after all, Gerry and I had been friends for a long time. Friendship, I reasoned, was a good base upon which to build a loving relationship.

For twenty-four months and twenty days, Gerry was a kind and considerate husband. He played his part so well that not one member of our families, not one friend or acquaintance, had the slightest inkling that our marriage was not made in heaven. Even I was lulled into thinking that our pre-nuptial agreement would be scrapped; that Gerry had found a small place in his heart for me.

Was it so naïve of me, I ask myself as I turn over the pages of the last two years; was it so naïve of me to take all those little signs of affection, the surprise gifts, the flowers and gentle caresses, as an indication of a growing love?

Why, I wonder now, did he put on all that unnecessary display if he felt nothing for me? Perhaps he thought he needed to create an illusion of hope for me in order to keep me content with my lot. Whatever his reasons, he gave me no cause to suspect his evil intent let alone the evil that lurked in his heart.

He could have trusted me because I would never have done anything to hurt him. I entered into our partnership with my eyes wide open and was prepared to be paid off at the end of the contract, even though I clutched at the faint hope that sometimes dreams do come true. The million dollars that was to be mine at the end would have gone a long way to ease the pain of a broken dream.

Gerry must have had a cruel streak in him that I had not detected. He knew I loved him and he deliberately played with my emotions for the pleasure of seeing me shattered and broken. His father must have known and added the proviso to his will in the hope that a miracle would happen to change his son’s character.

You will inherit the whole of my estate, my beloved son,
provided that you marry a nice girl and stay married for
two years. Should you remain single and fancy free, then
the whole caboodle goes to those nominated below.

If Gerry had not played his cruel little game we would have ended our contract and gone our separate ways. I with my million dollars and he with his multi-million dollar legacy. If it hadn’t been for domino, it would have been my broken body at the bottom of the cliff. At the thought my teeth begin to chatter and Domino nuzzles me and whines softly.I look down into the soft dark eyes.

“It’s been nice knowing you, sweetheart, but it is over. There’ll be weeping and much sympathy for me,” Gerry said as he reached to push me into oblivion.

Domino made his silent rush, rising up to place two massive paws into the small of Gerry’s back, sending him over the edge while I toppled backwards to land awkwardly on my behind. I sat there for a space of time – time when the world spun around me and Gerry’s words an endless repetition in my mind.

Gerry told me he had an appointment on Tuesday with Shack, Shack and Shack, Attorneys At Law, to arrange for our divorce and the settlement to me of my one million dollars. He lied, because there was no such appointment and now I wonder just when he planned my ‘accident’.

Now, on Tuesday, there will be a solemn church service with an equally solemn funeral procession, followed by a tasteful wake. After that, with Gerry’s millions washing over me, I will concentrate in dealing with my grief and mending my shattered dreams.

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The Games They Play

A visit to the Sandford home was an ordeal. No one, least of all their parents, was exempt from the pranks of a bunch of the wildest kids in the bush.

The Sandfords lived on an isolated cattle station in the far north east of South Australia. Dick Sandford was employed as the Station Manager and his wife, Maisie, spent her time doing domestic chores and acting as chief cook and bottlewasher for the Station’s workforce and the frequent visits of the owner or his representatives.

There were six Sandford children, Tom, Richard, Margaret, Owen, William and the endearing young Molly. Their ages ranged from twelve to two years. Schooling for children in the outback was correspondence lessons under the eye of a hired teacher or Governess, and there was always a huge turnover of such employees due to the tough conditions and isolation.

Maisie Sandford presided over organised chaos. While she did her best she found it difficult to allocate enough time to keep her brood in check, and they were left to amuse themselves. When Tom and Richard reached school age, she set up a school room by getting Dick to enclose part of the verandah off the dining room and with the best of intentions, started them off on their correspondence lessons.

Unused to being confined in any way, Tom and Richard were not impressed with this learning caper. They grumbled and moaned. The moment Maisie had to leave the room to attend the kitchen, the two boys lost no time in escaping and remaining out of Maisie’s reach until supper time.

By the time Tom and Richard were twelve and ten years old, they had learned very little. Margaret liked learning, and now she was helping Owen complete his correspondence assignments. Maisie had been complaining to her husband that she was out of her depth with schooling their kids, but their efforts to secure the services of a teacher had been unsuccessful.

It was with some relief then, that she announced the arrival of a governess. “Well, you two, your good times are about to end,” Maisie told her boys one evening when they showed up for supper. “Your father will be home tomorrow and he is bringing a school teacher with him. There’ll be no more of this ducking your school lessons.”

Tom and Richard looked long and hard at each other but said nothing. Owen and Margaret began to giggle whilst the two younger ones, not understanding the impact of the news, began to tuck into the food on their plates. Maisie paused to study the faces of her brood around the table and realised for the first time that they looked for all the world like a bunch of ruffians.

“From now on, “ Maisie said with all the sternness she could muster, “you will get no supper unless you have washed your face and hands and combed your hair.” Her eyes fell on her older boys. “Tom and Richard, go at once and wash those filthy hands.”

As the two older boys pushed their chairs away from the table with much noise, Owen and Margaret’s giggles became louder. Tom, angry now, picked up a handful of mashed potato and threw it with precision accuracy to splatter on Owen’s face. “Bull’s eye” he said as Owen spluttered and scraped the mess from his eyes. Margaret, always protective of her favourite sibling, returned the gesture and when the missile splattered on Tom’s face she yelled, “Double bull’s eye”.

Before Maisie had time to react she had a riot on her hands. William and Molly, too young to comprehend, also joined in the fun of throwing food. Molly laughed in delight from her high chair as she filled her little plump hands from the contents of her bowl and William climbed up on his chair yelling “Bull’s eye, bull’s eye.”

Maisie grabbed Richard by the neck of his shirt and with the other hand cuffed Tom over the ear. Suddenly there was silence. She pushed Richard out the door and grabbed Tom, spun him around and sent him off after Richard.

Owen began to cry. Margaret, protective as always put her arms around him and tried to soothe him. “Don’t cry, Owey.”

William was back sitting in his chair looking somberly at the mess around him. He looked at his mother and said plaintively, “I’se hungry Mummie.”

It was mid-morning on a Friday when the governess arrived at the station. She was about twenty years old with little experience in her profession. She came from a genteel city family, was quietly spoken and almost prissy in appearance. She was introduced to her new charges as Miss Morris and she began her duties at 9am on Monday morning.

Tom and Richard failed to show up in the school room by 9.30 am and Miss Morris was forced to enlist Marcie’s help. At 10 am the classroom door slammed open and the boys were unceremoniously flung into the room by a red-faced, furious Dick Sandford. “Think yourselves lucky you didn’t find out what my stockwhip feels like,” he roared.

Miss Morris looked as though she’d rather have been anywhere else at that moment. Her eyes darted from the two sullen faces of her pupils to the angry face of their father. Dick Sandford’s rage subsided quickly and he turned to Miss Morris and apologised for the behaviour of his sons. “I hope you can put something worthwhile in their heads,” he told her quietly. “My wife and I will do our best to help you. Good morning,” he added as he left the room, shutting the door quietly behind him.

“Because this is our first day together,” Miss Morris began tentatively, “I’d like to use this time to get to know each other.” She paused and directed her gaze to Tom and Richard who were huddled together at the far end of the large table where Margaret and Owen were working. “Tom, I’d like you to sit here at this small table, and Richard, you may have the space right there where you are.”

“Now, I’d like you to tell me a little about yourselves. I would like to know what lessons you find hard to understand and what subjects you would like to learn more about. Margaret, would you like to begin?”

“It’s all hard, Miss.” Margaret replied without hesitation. “I can’t do sums very well, but I like learning to read.”

“Thank you, Margaret. I hope I can make it easier for you with your sums and it is very good that you like reading. It is very important to read well. Tom, what do you like to learn?”

“Nuthin,” Tom replied, “I’sall bullshit an I don’t wanna learn nuthin.”

“Yeah, me too,” Richard piped up. “Ridin horses is best.”

Miss Morris showed no reaction to the language or their bad speech.
“Well, it is clear that both of you will have to work at improving your speech,” she told them quietly, “you may not like school lessons but the more you learn while you are young, the better your life will be. There is plenty of time for you to ride horses after school.”

“They’re dumb and won’t ever learn. Owey and I will be smart and Tom ‘n Richy will be dumb, dumb, dumb.” Margaret taunted.

“Shuddup, you goody girl. Ya can’t even ride a horse an’ yer’d drown in the dam.” Richard retorted.

“That is quite enough!” Miss Morris countered sternly. She shifted her gaze to Owen who was sitting quietly with his elbows on the table and his face resting in his hands. “Owen, would you like to tell me what you like to do?”

Owen shook his head and stared down at the table. Just then a gong sounded and all four children got to their feet noisily. Miss Morris raised her voice above the din. “Sit down!”

“But, Miss,” Margaret exclaimed, “ that’s the dinner gong!”

“I know very well it is the dinner gong Margaret,but you will not leave your seats without my permission! Now, sit down until I say you may go.”

Tom and Richard mumbled and grumbled, but all four sat down.

“Good,” Miss Morris said. “Now, I want to see you back in the classroom at two o’clock sharp. This afternoon we will begin your schooling in earnest.” She paused “You may stand and leave the room quietly.”

Miss Morris resigned after a month of enduring a campaign of pranks designed to to get rid of her. She came to dread entering the classroom. She was unable to cope with the fear in the pit of her stomach when she opened a drawer to find a large hairy tarantula looking for a way out of its prison and the smug, satisfied grins on the faces of Tom and Richard and their absolute delight when she freaked out. There was no end of the creepy creatures that turned up in the classroom but the six foot carpet snake, a diamond python, they put in her bedroom was the last straw.

There was a succession of teachers after the departure of Miss Morris. None lasted beyond a month. With as much assistance as Maisie could give, Margaret continued doing her correspondence lessons and did her best to help Owen while Tom and Richard wreaked havoc wherever they were.

“We have to do something about those two boys of ours, Maise,” Dick Sandford said as he entered the kitchen for smoko one morning. “If they don’t kill themselves first they’ll end up gaol bait.”

“What have they done now?” Maisie asked.

“Caused a bloody mess when they decided to stampede the mob of cattle the men were yarding. Silly little buggers nearly got themselves trampled.”

Maisie turned sharply and with a look of alarm on her face said, “Oh Dick. They’re okay aren’t they?”

“Sure they’re okay, but both of them will have trouble sitting on their backsides for a bit. First time I’ve been able to catch them to give them a good belting.” Dick ran his fingers through his thinning hair and sighed. “You know, Maisie, those kids’ve got nine bloody lives but they’ve used up seven of them.”

For Tom and Richard the crunch came a few months later when the station owner, Bob McLean, and his offsider paid a visit. Dick had warned the boys to make themselves scarce and if they got up to anything he’d beat the living daylights out of them. All went well until the time of departure and Dick was feeling relaxed and relieved that the boys hadn’t caused any problems.

“Going to see a man about a dog,” Fred the offsider said and headed off in the direction of the station dunny.

“Watch the redbacks,” one of the stockmen yelled.

It was too good an opportunity for Tom and Richard. They had been hitherto unnoticed and now stood out like beacons. “Let’s see how fast we can get ‘im outa there” Tom laughed. He fired the rifle, and at the same time Richard released the stone from his shanghai. The bullet hit the top of the dunny while the stone hit the iron wall with a shattering noise. Fred came out of the dunny moments later, his pants hobbling him around his ankles and his face as white as a sheet. Tom and Richard were doubled up in hysterical laughter.

Dick Sandford, momentarily paralysed at the scene before him, moved quickly to grab his stockwhip and, with a flick of his wrist, the whip curled around the body of Richard effectively curtailing his escape. Tom took off like a rocket while Dick reeled his brother in like a fish at the end of a line.

“Hang on to this little bastard, Maisie, while I get the other one.” Dick said as he shoved Richard towards her. He folded his stockwhip and headed off furiously muttering to himself about the many ways he could punish his sons.

Some twenty minutes later, Dick arrived back with Tom and pushed him to where Fred was waiting with the boss near the Ford V8 sedan they’d arrived in.
He called to Maisie to bring Richard and when he had the two boys together, he demanded they apologise . The boys mumbled something unintelligible.

Dick cuffed the pair of them under the ear and roared. “I said apologise and make sure you sound as if you bloody mean it!” They did so and Dick dismissed them to stay in the classroom until he decided what he was going to do with them. “You bloody well stay there, too,” he yelled after them as they left with heads bowed.

When the boys were out of earshot, Bob Mclean began to chuckle. “Dick, you’ve got to give it to them, those boys of yours sure come up with original pranks. I’ve heard plenty of yarns about them, but until now you’ve kept them pretty inconspicuous when I’ve been here.”

Dick began to apologise but McLean held up his hand to silence him. “I have a solution for you if you’re interested. It’s none of my business mind, but they’ll end up getting themselves hung if you don’t do something about them.”

Dick nodded his agreement and waited for Bob McLean to continue.

“I was thinking while you were chasing after that older boy. The two of them need to be separated so if you and Maisie agree, I’d be willing to take on that older boy and put him to work as a jackeroo plus make sure he gets some education.”

Dick looked at Maisie with a raised eyebrow. She nodded and smiled. “Mr McLean, you are right that the boys need to be separated. Dick and I have hardly any control over them and are at our wits end. If you take Tom and make something of him we’ll both be very grateful. We both know you will take good care of him and give him the discipline he needs.”

“Right then, that’s settled.” He slapped Dick on the back and grinned widely at Maisie. “How about you go and pack him a swag and we’ll be on our way. No time like the present, eh?”

A half hour later, Maisie returned with Tom who was carrying a swag and a small, battered suitcase. Richard was hanging back a few yards to their rear looking worried and a bit confused at this new ‘punishment’ his parents had dreamed up. Fred took the swag and case from Tom and jammed it in the narrow boot of the Ford. “Git in the back, son …and no bloody tricks either.”

Tom moved to the vehicle but before he could open the door, Maisie grabbed him and gave him a hug. “You behave yourself, Tom. We’ll see you soon.” Tom promised he’d behave and Dick shook his son’s hand, telling him he must do as Mr. McLean told him and he’d end up a son to be proud of. He told Tom he always had a home with his family and would always be welcomed.

The Ford V8 departed soon after and the remaining Sandford kids stood and watched until it disappeared into the mulga scrub in a cloud of dust. Richard was still there looking at the empty road when the others had gone back into the homestead. Dick went over to him, took him by the arm and led him to the ‘sitting’ log under the big gum tree just inside the garden fence.

“Richard, we are not sending Tom away to get rid of him. Mr. McLean is giving him a paying job so he can learn to be a jackeroo as well as school learning so he doesn’t end up a useless sod who can’t earn a living. Understand?”

Richard sat there drawing patterns in the dirt with his riding boots. “Yeah Dad, but where does that leave me – up the bloody creek?”

“You’ll be up the bloody creek without a paddle if you don’t pull yourself together and set about learning to read and write properly. If you do your school lessons every day, I will make a stockman out of you in your spare time. When you and Tom get together now and then you’ll be able to swap yarns and crow about what you’ve learned. It’s up to you. So put your nose to the grindstone and see if you can grow into a good sort of bloke.”

Dick left Richard there to decide which road he was going to travel and went in to find Maisie. “Well, Maise, did we do the right thing?”

Maisie put the teapot on the table and filled two mugs with strong black tea.. “I hope so, Dick. It’ll take a bit of getting used to but I think both boys will be better for it. Where’s Richard?”

“I just had a talk to him; he’s out on the ‘sitting’ log thinking over the whole bit. I reckon he’ll knuckle under in a day or two. Tom’ll wonder what hit him until he learns the ropes. Bob McLean won’t take any nonsense from him, but he’s fair and won’t allow him to be bullied. Wouldn’t have considered it otherwise.”

Maisie sat there looking into the bottom of her mug at the pattern of tea leaves. She looked up at Dick and found him doing the same thing. She smiled. “What do you see, love?”

“Tea leaves,” Dick replied, “just bloody tea leaves.”

“I’ve been thinking about what would be best for our kids, Dick. I hate the thought but do you think we might be wise to send the kids away to boarding school? Not all at once, but when they’re old enough?”

Dick sighed. “Oh Maise, that idea has been in my mind for months, but I couldn’t even suggest it to you. I know what a wrench it will be for us both.” He reached over and put his hand on hers. “We live in the bush but that is no excuse to bring up a bunch of scrubbers.”

Maisie smiled. “Well then, let’s turn our bunch of scrubbers into a bunch of fine young people.”

Dick got up from the table and kissed the top of her head. “Maise, old girl, I reckon we’ll look back on this day as the best in our lives, and it all started when Tom and Richard shot the dunny.” A chuckle began in his thoat and became a full-bellied laugh. “Did you ever see anything so funny as Fred trying to run with his trousers round his ankles?”

Maisie shook her head and giggled. The whole house reverberated with the sounds of laugher for some minutes but the story of the dunny prank did the rounds of the bush for years.

NOTE: This story is a piece of fiction based on incidents picked up via the bush telegraph.

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