Chas Adlard, Australian Author


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 piss-a-phone.

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 complete.

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 wasted.

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 equally fair.

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 and said,

"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 broken.

"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 catering trade.

"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 throats.

"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 bloody planet."

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 amusement.

"Better keep it shut mate - remember that was the last cook's mistake."

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 whistle blew.

"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 manager.

"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 tomorrow, Kip?"

"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 grin.

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 arsehole. Kip."

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 thankyou."

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 Tassie.

"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 seconds.

"Nice try you big bastard", said Blue.

The manager grinned and started dishing out schooners filled with ice cold beer.

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 American.

"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 way.

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.

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