The Dakota C-47 banked left and headed on
its final leg toward its destination at Kangoola Station some two
hundred kilometres west of Woomera. This was part of the bread run
carried out weekly by its ageing crew. James Duffy, who piloted the
aircraft, and his navigator come radio-man, Ron "Bluey" Smith, had put
more flying hours in together than most, and especially on Daks. In
wartime they had served together in the same squadron, flying freight
mostly in the Pacific region, and had formed a solid relationship that
made the transition to peacetime partners easy. They had purchased
this latest plane three years before when the R.A.A.F had retired it
from service. The astrodome to the rear of the cockpit told the story
of the plane's military origin.
Their job was to supply the outlying areas that were so remote from
the main towns. This link with civilisation was vital for the outback
people in South Australia. Occasionally they would break aviation
rules and allow one or two hitch-hikers to travel with them, for a
slight price of course. That's how Toby and his new bride had managed
to inexpensively travel this last part of their long journey from
England to Woomera. They had used their sea voyage as a proper
honeymoon and both were so much in love that the time passed all too
quickly. They had disembarked in Adelaide where they spent three days
in an inexpensive hotel while arranging for a flight to Woomera. Toby
visited the Savings Bank of South Australia while in Adelaide and
deposited what little cash they had in a new account and also left
their personal documents with the bank for safe keeping. Before
leaving England Toby had secured a two year contract as a steward in
Woomera's E.L.D.O mess, and now both Toby and Melanie looked eagerly
towards their new life in Australia's outback.
The formalities of safety aboard the Dakota were, to say the least,
lax. Melanie had insisted sitting on the makeshift webbing seat
nearest to the port side escape hatch, situated in the fifth window
back from the plane's nose, on the wing. The belt that had been
secured tightly at Parafield airport had not been loosened one iota,
indicating her lack of respect for the ageing plane. Toby, not knowing
that the plane was starting its descent, had gone to relieve himself.
They had both been warned that conveniences were non-existent for
Melanie, as this facility had been removed for some unknown reason,
and poor for Toby. Melanie had resisted the temptation to either eat
or drink for three hours before the flight. Toby on the other hand had
downed a large quantity of orange juice just before departing from
Adelaide. He made his way past the tied-down crates of general
merchandise and opened the door into the rear compartment. Shutting
the door he found a funnel-like contraption that acted as the planes
The hairline crack had opened along the inner side of one hydraulic
line just after the plane had taken off from Parafield. The aircraft
had been strictly serviced up until six months before but due to an
urgency to lower an ever- increasing overdraft the plane's crew had
bypassed her last major service. Like many walks of life, ways of
cutting corners are available once the system has been examined for
shortfalls - log books kept with poor hand-writing and overlapping
signatures and stamps can deceive any cursory glance, especially when
the crew is well known and liked by ground-staff.
Captain James Duffy's first indication that something was amiss gave
him little or no time to react to the situation. The red warning light
that confirmed that the wheels were down and locked had flickered and
died the trip before last and hadn't been fixed. As the port wheel
touched terra firma the lowered landing gear simply gave way, causing
the port engine to eat into the red dirt of the sheep station's
runway. This action in turn caused the engine to part company with the
plane and spin sideways to starboard. On the fuselage, painted in red,
was a warning - Danger Propeller. Almost in a direct answer to this
warning the port side prop sliced neatly along the dotted line and cut
the nose off the aircraft. In doing so, her navigator, "Bluey" Smith,
who had been sitting in the radio operator's seat, was dissected in a
blur of a moment leaving his passing as a red mist suspended
momentarily in the air.
As the nose fell away the starboard side engine broke away and spun
off slightly right and forward before it came to rest at the side of
the runway in a slight depression. Simultaneously the tail of the
aircraft rose sharply in the air, standing at right angles like a
crucifix to mark the plane's final resting place.
Toby had just opened the compartment door, having completed his
business as the plane's landing gear failed. He was thrown forward and
hit a packing case with a force that broke his collar bone and two
ribs. In sheer desperation, with his good arm, he grabbed hold of the
plaited webbing that secured the crates. Suddenly, with the added
angle of the plane's fuselage the load started to move forward. It
poured out of the gaping hole left by the separated cockpit onto the
ground below. Toby was vaguely conscious of Melanie's scream as he
passed her. She was still miraculously unhurt except for extensive
bruising where the seat belt had bitten into her body.
Toby followed the cargo out onto the ground and knew no more until he
became aware of a voice.
"Its O.K mate. You're alive - not kicking, but alive."
"Melanie, I must get Melanie. She's still in there.
"She's alright, she's screaming blue murder, right now, but that's
good. She's alive."
How the bloody hell Jim Duffy had survived, God only knew. One minute
he was inboard and the next outboard, thrown clear to land in a large
pile of bulldust. He had been knocked momentarily unconscious but had
suffered no other injury. His habitual wearing of an old leather
flying jacket had obviously contributed to his physical well being. He
hadn't found his navigator, who was also his best friend, but expected
the worst. He had found Toby amidst the debris and had dragged him to
a safe distance from the aircraft.
"We'll get her out, son, but we must wait until help arrives. The boys
from the homestead will be here any minute, make no mistake."
Jim Duffy ran towards the aircraft and shouted for Melanie to listen.
She stopped screaming only after he told her bluntly to "Bloody
shut-up you stupid Pommie sheila." Strangely, when she did so, her
first words were of concern for Toby.
"Is Toby alright?"
"He's just a bit damaged, nothing very bad - he'll be O.K." Duffy
replied. He told her to remain still and that help was on its way.
Duffy turned back towards Toby who was attempting to get to his feet,
unsuccessfully. Suddenly, out of a cloud of dust materialised a
four-wheel drive vehicle.
"Hell of a landing, Jim, anyone hurt?" asked a rugged wizened little
man who from his appearance had seen more sun than was good for him.
The tell-tale marks of skin cancer were clearly visible on his nose
and forehead, despite the fact that he wore a broad rimmed hat.
"I think old Bluey's had it, mate", replied Jim matter-of-factly.
"Shit, I'm sorry mate. Anybody else injured other than this bloke?" He
indicated toward Toby.
"My wife. Please help her, please", Toby pleaded.
The Dakota, unlike so many other aircraft, houses its fuel load in
four belly tanks directly beneath the main fuselage. The radial piston
prop engines are run on AVGAS fuel. This is about the same octane
rating as super fuel. When full the aircraft's capacity is six hundred
and seventy gallons but this particular aircraft was fitted with long
range tanks, increasing its load capacity to eight hundred. Due to the
fuel already consumed her tank ullage space had been increased.
Friction had caused the collapsed landing gear and the magnesium of
the wheels to reach extreme temperatures. One fuel tank had ruptured
and most of its contents had already spilled out. The AVGAS fumes had
filled the whole area beneath the fractured wings, and now finally the
ignition point had been reached and the mixture of fuel and air was
The small group of men preparing for the first steps of rescue
distinctly heard the sound, not a loud explosion, but more like a
popping sound. Then the plane was burning. It doubled its intensity
and then tripled it and doubled and tripled until they were driven
back from its scorching flames.
Nobody said anything, until a cry of such agonising sorrow cut through
the still outback air. Toby had come to Australia for a new life and
yet in one short moment had lost his will to live.
It had all been like a dream. The move to hospital, where he awoke
screaming. The recurring headaches plaguing him and reminding him of
his illness in Gibraltar. Was he in fact there? Was this a dream? Then
realisation that it was real, that he had lost Melanie. The funeral
and the tearing sadness that followed. Toby had been taken back to the
sheep station by the owner-manager, John "Gunna" Smith. The manager
had felt slightly responsible for Toby's wife's death. He had confided
in his men.
"Here we were standing around like a load of flaming galahs passing
the time of day, like it was a Sunday afternoon bloody picnic, while
the plane went up in smoke."
The fact of the matter was that they all would have perished if they
had managed to gain entry to the plane in the few moments that were
Toby's external wounds had healed nicely during the weeks that
followed and to look at he was fit and healthy. He had sat daily on
the wide verandah and the strong sun's rays had changed his complexion
to a dark brown, but Toby hadn't talked to anyone, except to pass
pleasantries, for more than five weeks. He was locked inside himself,
which made him feel completely disoriented from the outside world. He
just sat there looking out across the dry landscape, thinking of
little, because to think was too, too painful.
John "Gunna" Smith was so named because in times of trouble, and there
were many, he had a habit of saying,
"That's it, I'm gunna sell up and move back to the city."
His men were devoted to the old bachelor, for he was a hard man but
Gunna walked out on to the verandah and stood next to Toby's chair. He
relit his pipe and squatted down on his heels.
"Howyergoing, Toby? Coming good?"
Toby didn't answer at first, but then he turned towards the older man
"I don't know, sir, I..." He trailed off.
"Well the way I see it, son, is that you've sat there like a stale
bottle of piss for long enough."
Gunna meant to handle this well, but, damn it, he was getting angry.
When Toby didn't answer he stood up over him.
"Listen, you whining pommie bastard, there's a lot more to life than
feeling sorry for yourself. Your missus would be real proud of you,
wouldn't she? And if you're thinking of blaming this on good old
Aussie, then forget it, she doesn't need it either."
With that he whirled about and headed inside the homestead. Good oh,
Gunna, you handled that really well, he thought to himself.
The next morning all hell broke loose. The permanent hands and Toby
were eating their breakfast when the door threatened to burst from its
hinges as it was kicked open.
"That's it, I'm gunna sell up and move back to the city", announced
Gunna just loudly enough that the inhabitants down in Adelaide could
hear his plans. "Some thumping great galoot of a shearer just
rearranged their cook's face. Shit, he'll have to use a sheet to find
his nose if he gets a wog." He looked around the room daring anybody
to comment. "The cook shot through like a Bondi tram and now I've got
to send down to Adelaide for a replacement. Meanwhile the shearers
won't work. I mean, it's my bloody fault the cook shot through? Shit!"
"I'll cook for you."
"Who said that?"
"Me, sir", said Tobias Wendell Carrington.
Gunna hid his surprise and said gruffly, "You can cook, can you? And
don't call me sir." The men stifled their laughter. The water had
"I have a feel for it, I've done a bit." Toby had done some cooking,
but only a little. He did, however, have a knack for anything in the
"You'll need more than a feel for it to survive the day, son. Those
shearers will eat you alive if you leave them hungry."
"She'll be right", mimicked Toby, "and don't call me son."
The station hands held their breath, waiting for it. Gunna looked like
he was going to explode and then the sound came whistling through his
teeth and he was laughing fit to bust. The whole room joined in with
relief. Gunna arranged for the station's regular cook to go out and
feed the shearers for the rest of that day. He wasnt over-happy but
nevertheless he went. The station hands would have to eat cold rations
but Gunna reckoned that wouldn't exactly kill them.
Toby set off towards the shearers' quarters just after eleven that
morning with Gunna Smith at the wheel of the battered station utility.
As they drove across the red dirt track, Toby looked around at the
desolate landscape. The ground was covered in spiky grasses that had
dried to a greyish yellow. Occasionally there were clumps of trees,
mostly stringy barked gums and a few casuarinas. The sky above was
brilliant blue and totally devoid of any clouds. It was hot in the
ute's cab and the dust billowed behind them, marking their progress
clearly across the landscape. The temperature was climbing steadily
towards the old century mark and the hot dry air rasped in their
"Dry old argument, isn't she, Toby?" remarked the station owner and
Toby agreed. The shearers' accommodation was apparently over an hour's
journey from the homestead. Gunna explained that his grandfather had
built it in eighteen ninety-eight as his home. After the second world
war the family had bought up some extra land to the east which was
closer to the main road to Adelaide and had then built the present
homestead. The station covered an area of approximately a hundred
square kilometres, not that big compared with other stations across
Australia. Toby was beginning to see why the shearers had their own
cook. He was a bit worried as to why the cook had received a broken
nose and mentioned it to Gunna. The cook, explained Gunna, had been
fairly good at his work but had a problem, his mouth. "Big as a
bucket", Gunna said. As they drew nearer to the shearing sheds, Toby
could make out the buildings with their patchwork roofs of red rust -
the galvanised iron roofing sheets suffering from the effects of time.
The shed had been designed for fifteen stands, one shearer to each
stand. Now only ten were in use since the introduction of the electric
handpiece. The old timber struts that held up sagging verandahs were
clearly visible now and seemed to be in sad repair.
"Toby, just a bit of advice. You'll cop a lot of shit at first. It's
up to you how you react. Cop it sweet, and you'll get by. Bite and
you're gone." Gunna lit his pipe, steering the ute with his knee.
"There's a bit more competition with this lot than normal, and it's
still pretty good generally. We've got a couple of imports among them.
One's the ringer, a New Zealander. The other, running a close second,
is a septic tank from Oklahoma. Now, we Aussies don't like foreigners
coming in and showing us up so it's on for one and all. Our money's on
a bloke from Tasmania. Mind you, we don't tell him that. As far as he
knows he's worse than a foreigner. As a Tasmanian, he's from another
They pulled in to the yard and kelpie sheepdogs surrounded them,
barking excitedly as they bathed the wheels in torrents of urine. Toby
got out and took a deep breath, and wished he hadn't. He was coughing
and spluttering, spitting out flies by the dozen, much to Gunna's
"Better keep it shut mate - remember that was the last cook's
The flies were equally thick around Gunna's head, but the old bushy
took no notice. He led Toby into the house and showed him into a room.
It was sparsely furnished with threadbare material covering an old
lounge chair, a bedside table with a reading lamp and a rickety old
bed. The place was clean though, and, after the heat outside, fairly
cool, thanks to the ten foot ceilings and wide stone walls. Outside a
"Lunchtime. Come on, I'll introduce you to the boys", said Gunna.
The kitchen was not part of the main house, but stood separate a short
distance away. Its large chimney was working overtime and Toby
wondered why this was so. They walked up the steps into the dining
area where the shearers were already tucking in to it with a certain
fervour. Mounds of bread rolls were stacked on plates in the middle of
the table and all types of different sauces. Although they had already
attacked the mounds of food on their plates, Toby was amazed at what
they consumed in the heat of the day for lunch. Chops, sausages,
mashed potato, beans, peas and gravy were being washed down with cold
milk and endless jugs of cordial.
"Everytime I see you bastards, you're feeding your faces. Don't you do
any work?" asked Gunna.
"Hell Gunna, has somebody pinched your bed? It's only midday",
retorted one shearer.
"Yeah, youse old bastards need your beauty sleep", said another.
"In his case, that's for sure", said yet another.
To Toby, it was obvious from the continuing banter that the crusty old
manager was pretty popular with this crowd. He looked at the men. All
were similarly dressed in blue singlets and shorts that had seen
better days. Their tanned bodies glistened with the sweat of their
toil and they all were slim and hard. They varied in physical size
from the very short to the extra tall.
"Settle down, girls", said Gunna. "I've brought you another cook
seeing how you scared the last one off. The shearers interrupted him
with rude noises at this barb.
"Toby's new at the game, so give him a fair go", said the station
"Toby? What sort of name's that? Sounds like a cat", said one shearer.
"Pipe down, Blue", said a tall rugged bloke of about thirty. "Where
you from, Toby?" he asked. Toby answered him.
"Not another bleeding foreigner, and a kipper at that."
Toby by now had a grin plastered on his face that he couldn't seem to
shift. He looked and felt pretty stupid. Gunna said nothing but let
them go. If the kid couldn't handle the good stuff, then he was going
to just love the bad.
"That's it, a kipper. We'll call him Kip."
There was a shout of approval and Tobias Wendell Carrington the third
was re-baptised, Aussie style. Gunna could see that Toby was stuck for
words so he suggested that they check out the kitchen. Toby nodded
gratefully. As they were leaving one shearer asked, "What's for tea
"Poissons de la Carrington", replied Toby.
"What the hell is that?" he asked.
"Why, kippers of course", said Toby keeping a straight face.
"The bastard got you there, Tassie", said a big beefy shearer with a
Gunna joined in the laughter that followed, relieved that the kid had
come through. Now if only he could cook... Gunna left Toby shortly
after the shearers had returned to work. The cook was still clearing
up, so Toby pitched in to help. He had found the source of the smoking
chimney earlier. The kitchen's large wood burning stove was the
culprit. Toby began to doubt his own expertise. He was used to gas and
electricity but this monstrosity scared the bloody life out of him. It
was little wonder that the regular cook had seemed reluctant that
morning. How did you turn the bastard down? The cook noticed Tobys'
expression and sympathised. He himself had cooked for many years on a
wood stove and although with one breath he loved it, with another he
loathed the bloody thing, but, he confided in Toby, it's great for
making bread. For making what? Toby had never made bread in his life
and the prospect of disappointing ten angry shearers quite frankly
scared the shit out of him. Help! To the cook he explained that he'd
need some guidelines for bread making on this unknown and possibly
unfriendly wood stove. The kitchen did have an electric range as well,
although only of the domestic type, run by the area's freelight. The
amount of groceries could have kept a small town alive for a decade
and the cool room had carcases of both lamb and beef hanging on meat
hooks from the ceiling. Toby asked the cook how long they'd last
before going off. The cook replied that when Toby saw them move he
should then ask Gunna to get some more. Outside the kitchen was an old
laundry, no longer in use. In here he found potatoes stored and where
the old wooden boiler had been there was a large steel plate over a
brick fireplace which was used for a barbecue.
That night Toby avoided the shearers and went to bed early. He slept
very little and arose at two in the morning. By four-thirty he had
burnt his second batch of bread and by five had produced a solid mess,
but, in all honesty, it was cooked to perfection. At six o'clock he
had succeeded in producing a passable amount of bread and crispy
rolls. He had laid out the table with cereals, milk, orange juice,
sugar and various condiments in place. On top of the wood stove
keeping warm was a large pile of toast, rashers of bacon, sausages,
tomatoes and, ready for a moment's notice, eggs at hand to cook. Two
large pots of tea and coffee were standing piping hot on the domestic
range. Toby had prepared one other item of interest and that was a
huge pot of hot lamb curry, rich with fruit. He had made out a card
ready to put on the servery next to it -"For those who want a second
The shearers came in one at a time wishing him a "G'day". They
consumed their cereals and started on the piles of food Toby laid out
on the table, including the labelled pot of curry. They made a few
disparaging remarks about the cereal being raw but generally
concentrated on the matter in hand. Toby kept back in the kitchen most
of the time, occasionally checking to see if anything was needed.
Suddenly, a chair crashed back and Blue Buchanan grabbed his throat
and made for the door. It crashed open and he did a barrel roll,
landed on his back in the dust, and lay still. Then Graeme Michaels
fell back limp in his chair and the big Yank and the bloke from Tassie
carried him outside and laid him beside Blue. One by one, all the
shearers staggered outside and lay down. Toby went to the door and
shouted "Arseholes!" and as the shearers got tiredly to their feet,
and made off towards the shed, one of them shouted back "Yeah, ten
As Toby cleared the empty plates he noted that the curry pot was wiped
clean. He was whistling as he got busy for round two - morning smoko.
At precisely nine-twenty five he arrived at the shed laden with pies,
pasties, sausage rolls, tomato sauce, milk, cordial, tea, coffee and
the makings to go with it. He dumped it all without ceremony on the
rough table set up next to a wool press and left. The whistle blew as
he walked out of the main door. Gunna had said there's time for
playing and there's time for not. Toby had noticed however the fever
of the place and also the young Aboriginal roustabouts who worked at
the feet of the shearers. He must ask where they got fed? The kitchen
felt cool compared with the shed and Toby made a mental note not to
complain out loud about either the flies or the heat. The temperature
peaked at midday at forty-six degrees centigrade. It's warming up a
bit, he thought.
Toby busied himself after lunch cleaning out most of the kitchen
cupboards. He had served cold meats and salads for lunch accompanied
by lots of hot potatoes and large slices of fruit cake and icecream
for dessert. Nobody said too much for or against his choice. At least,
so far, Toby's nose was still in position in the middle of his face.
It was while he was cleaning out the cupboards that it hit him. He
felt it go and couldn't stop it. One moment he had been fine and the
next sobbing his heart out. Why, God? Why Melanie? He had never been
religious, but now like so many people in times of need, he looked to
the heavens for an answer. After ten minutes he resumed his work,
drained, but still coping.
Toby had cleaned off the dirty barbecue plate in the old laundry and
had lit a fire underneath it. He watched while it burnt to hot
charcoal and then went back inside the kitchen. That evening the
shearers had nothing but gripes about the size of the paltry steaks -
that happened to overlap their plates. The fact that a bloke could
wear out three sets of teeth just chewing the bastards - the steaks
done to perfection on the barbecue, marinated in a delicious sauce.
The fact that the bloody cook was too bone idle to peel the potatoes
that had fungus growing on them anyway - jacket potatoes filled with
butter and melted cheese, then piled high on top with mushrooms. The
pumpkin, peas and beans got away scot-free but the dessert of apple
pie and custard copped the lot. In short, the shearers were well
pleased with their new cook. He could stay.
Toby settled down over the next few days getting to know the routine
and other than a few teething problems managed to hold his own.
Attempting to fetch a long bow for one of the shearers, for instance,
got a laugh, on him. He started to understand why the hard working
shearers ate so well. Over two hundred sheep could be sheared by one
man in a day. This constant strain on their backs would retire many of
them early in their lives. In the evening they would all sit outside
on the verandah and exchange yarns. The flies retired early and the
night air dropped steadily in temperature, bringing relief from the
day's heat. Toby found out a lot about Australia from these blokes,
some of the yarns true, some not so true and some just incredible
bullshit. He had been listening to one account of dubious
authenticity, when he noticed one of the young Aboriginals that hed
seen in the shed lounging against the verandah post. Toby got up and
went over to him.
"I've seen you working in the shed. What's your job?" he asked. One of
the shearers overheard the question and got in first. "He doesnt work.
Jimmy's a wool classer, everybody knows they do bugger all." The other
shearers rose to the occasion with shouts of "Too bloody right" and
"You're not wrong". The Aboriginal laughed and gave them the thumb. He
was about Toby's age and returned his stare with frank steady eyes. He
held out his hand and as Toby shook it he said. "You're Kip, arent
you" Toby nodded. A bit later as the shearers disappeared inside for
the night they were left sitting on the verandah steps.
"How come you don't eat with the shearers?" Toby asked.
Jimmy explained that his people had their own camp just a short
distance away from the sheds. The Aboriginals were on the property
most of the time, unlike the shearers who only came for the clip and
then disappeared again. As they continued talking, Toby realised that
this man had a wide knowledge of his land and an education similar to
his own, and asked him about it. Jimmy had been schooled, as a child,
at the local mission and had continued his studies, with the help of
Gunna, ever since. He had been down to Adelaide on a wool classing
course and now had the desire to study law, so he intended to save
what he earned and then try for a place at Adelaide university.
When Jimmy eventually went, Toby sat alone and thought about Melanie
as he searched the bright outback sky. He'd never seen such a
spectacle before. It was so clear that it seemed nearer - so much so,
that he felt by reaching out he could take the star of his choice and
keep it until eternity. Yes, Melanie, until eternity.
The next day was Friday and the shearers were in good spirits,
anticipating the night ahead. During the week the camp was dry, not so
much by Gunna's hand as by the shearers themselves. Shearing sheep in
temperatures of over fifty degrees centigrade is bad enough, but
dehydrated from the effects of alcohol can be disastrous. However,
Friday nights were "the go", scrubbed clean and dressed to kill, well
anyway, at least in clean shirts and jeans. They would climb into the
station's truck which came to pick them up just after tea and head off
for the pub. Exactly three hours later, once more hot and dusty,
they'd clamber out and eagerly enter the hotel. The "Next to Nowhere"
hotel kept its own hours, and as its name suggested there was hardly
any chance of the local law, who were located at Woomera some two
hundred odd kilometres away, dropping in to remind the boys from
Kangoola station to behave themselves, let alone reminding the
publican of his licensing rights. This Friday was no different and as
Toby finished clearing up after tea he heard a truck pull up outside.
"Youse coming, or what Kip?" asked Blue Buchanan, with his head stuck
around the kitchen door. They set off along the dusty wheel-rutted
road which jarred their bones and threatened to loosen their teeth.
For some reason they thought Toby was a foot rest and they all plonked
their big boots on him. By the time they reached the hotel Toby was
wondering why anybody would risk life and limb for a bloody drink.
"Come on, stand up barman, can't you see you've got customers?" said
"Not from down there he can't, said Blue.
The hotel owner treated them all with a look of distain. "Shorty"
Moore had heard it all before. He was little over five feet tall and
as he stood behind the bar his chest was level with its top.
"Shit, I wished you'd told me you were coming, boys", he said
mournfully, "the bloody semi hasn't arrived with me fresh kegs yet.
The pub's dry."
He shook his head worryingly. There was a pregnant pause - nine
"Nice try you big bastard", said Blue.
The manager grinned and started dishing out schooners filled with ice
The shed had seen changes that week, as the New Zealander had
increased his lead on "Sep", the big American, and the bloke from
Tasmania had lifted his game and was now tallied even with the Yank.
In the shed Blue Buchanan stood between the two of them and the New
Zealander was another three stands to the American's right. Sep had
been outwardly indifferent to the other two men's work but, in fact,
he knew their tally better than his own.
As Blue stood at the bar savouring his second drink Sep wandered over
to stand next to him on his right while Tassie took up position on his
left. Both men ordered a separate beer and paid individually. They
seemed to be unaware of the others' presence. As one beer disappeared
they ordered another, both buying, coincidentally, at the same time.
Blue just ignored them and drank at his own pace. For an hour the
drinks were consumed at a steady rate, until the Tasmanian downed his
beer in one hit and asked the barman to provide two at a time from
then on. Blue decided the time had come to visit the gents and left
the two men standing alone.
"I suppose you think you're goddamn smart, don't you?" snarled the
"Yep", said the Tasmanian. The two men put down their glasses and made
for the door. Toby, who like the others had been keeping an eye on
play, started to rise from where he was sitting. The New Zealander
grabbed him and said, "Let em` go, Kip. It's being coming all week."
The other shearers feigned little interest in the proceedings that
were obviously taking place outside and carried on regardless. Fifteen
minutes later the two men returned inside, both carrying marks of a
battle. They made their way to the bar where the Tasmanian announced
in a loud voice, "Barman, this American gentleman and I, being a
patron of the only true state of Australia, would like to shout
these...", he swung his arm indicating the other shearers and Toby,
"misfits, some large Bundies." This got a roar of approval and the
previous episode was forgotten.
It was the Bundaberg rum that did it. Toby was sitting there as happy
as larry when the tears started to fall unashamedly down his face. The
New Zealander first noted it and said,"`What the hell's got into you?"
He got up, embarrassed at Toby's show of emotion and went to the bar.
"I thought he had more balls", he said to the barman, who looked up to
see what he was talking about. Shorty Moore had recognised Toby as
soon as they had walked in. He and the rest of the close-knit rural
community had attended the young girl's funeral.
"Pipe down, you bastard." He opened the bar flap and walked over to
Toby. He bent down and had a quiet word. Toby got to his feet and went
outside into the fresh air. The barman went back to the bar and
confronted the shearers who by now had quietened down.
"You know who that is?" he asked. They shook their heads. "Some weeks
ago before you started the clip, did any of you hear about a plane
crash?" Of course, they'd all heard about that. "Well, it was his
missus that died in it!"
"Next time I open my big bloody mouth, somebody for hell's sake put a
boot in it", said the New Zealander with feeling. He strode towards
the door, stopped midway there and turning, returned to the bar and
purchased a full bottle of Bundy. He then left the hotel.
They arrived back at seven the next morning. The return trip had taken
much longer. The truck stopped often to distribute carrots along the
One week later the clip was finished. The New Zealander had only just
kept the shed as the Tasmanian pushed him to extremes. They gave Toby
hell and he, in turn, promised to label the knives and forks for them,
if they met again, but there again, he said, they couldn't read
anyway. He drove back with them to the main homestead and after they
had gone he made his way to the small community graveyard where
Melanie was laid to rest.
Standing over the grave, Toby felt the tears, and wept and wept. At
the head of the grave the shearers had placed a memorial in engraved
bronze. It read - "In loving memory of Melanie Carrington from her
loving husband, Kip".
Toby squared his shoulders, turned away from the grave and walked
straight out towards the setting sun. The desolate landscape was
transformed into a blazing firelight of dust-red dirt and smoking
haze. He saw its magnificent beauty and loved it.
For this was Australia and Kip Carrington had arrived.