(C) Copyright 1970 Robert Gordon Delahoy
We had almost finished tea when Bill spoke.
"See where 'roo skins are bringing 3/6d a pound "
"Jove!" I was impressed. "I've got about a dozen pegged out now almost cured. Let's know when you're sending the next lot of rabbit skins to Melbourne Rupe. I'll put the 'roo skins in with them."
"Alright, but last time you didn't pay your share of the freight."
"Well I'll pay all of this. That out to square us."
Bill was still thinking about prices. "Y'know if this damn war goes on there'll be good money in skins. They're using the fur for the soldiers' hats and a lot of other things, I've heard."
"Well, let's hope it won't go on much longer," Mother said quickly. "It's over two weeks since has written. I wish I knew where he was, that address 'Somewhere in France' is so vague and worrying."
Harry tried to cheer her up. "George'll be alright. Might be on leave in England. You know how the mail ships from there are always getting delayed. Might be a letter tomorrow.
"Yes," agreed Mother. "Perhaps."
After we had finished eating Mother said she would wash up, and Harry could dry. "Off you go and do your homework Rupert."
Bill and I walked out onto the verandah, leaving the two of them alone. This was Mother's way of discussing business, and the washing up might go on for two hours while they talked.
"Be a nice night Bob," Bill said reflectively.
I leaned against a verandah post, looking out to the east across the paddocks as the full moon lifted above the horizon, changing slowly from deep orange-gold to silver.
"Yes Bill, be a good night for kangaroos."
Bill let himself down on the edge of the verandah and picked up a twig of mallee, scratching aimlessly in the dirt. "You've shot quite a lot of 'roos since we've been here."
"I suppose I have. This is the sort of night to get them, seeing its been warm and dry today with plenty of water in the boundary dam. Y'know, there must be 40 mile of virgin mallee to the north of our boundary, and hardly a waterhole in it."
The kangaroos came from miles around to drink at our dam, and on a night like this, with a slight northerly breeze, they could not scent you as they came in when you lay down on the south side of the water. And with a full moon they were silhouetted starkly as they came over the top of the north bank.
When they were on the bank they became a little cautious, and never hopped right down to the water, but leaned forward on their front paws, swung their hind legs forward around them, and repeated the movement until they were on the edge of the water. There they would pause for a long look around, then bend and drink for a moment, followed by another long study of their surroundings.
"When they stand up there on the bank, about a chain away, black against the moon, and their reflections are showing clearly in the water, you can't miss with the double barrel. I generally get two each time."
"Twelve last time you went out?"
"Yeah. Before dawn."
"Well, you ought to go out again tomorrow night if the weather holds. Make a few bob and that many less to get into the crop."
"Coming out with me?"
"No ..," Bill said slowly, scratching at the dirt with more concentration. "Something else on."
"Such as Olga?"
Bill stiffened. "That'd be a personal matter, wouldn't it." He climbed slowly to his feet, broke the twig in two, threw the pieces onto the ground, and walked back into the house.
He was a bit touchy about Olga.
The whole night was bathed in a transparent glow from the silver moon as night settled down. It was so light you could make out the forms of the horses grazing in the far reaches of the home paddock.
I started at the sudden screech of a night hawk as it flew by, then came the cry of a curlew lifting up and up into the sky, and away to the north the sound of a mo-poke.
"Moo- pook .., moo- poook .." It took two birds to make that sound. Perhaps brother Bill calls mooo, and Olga calls pook ..
Laughing to myself I turned and went back into the house.
After breakfast next morning Mother and Harry left for Speed on business and to do some shopping. Speed had a baker, butcher, general store, boarding house and a blacksmith, and with Jack Thrower, the local agent, and the railway, there was quite enough diversity to make shopping a long business, as there was always news to exchange with the various shopkeepers and friends you met.
After they left, and Rupe had ridden off to Turriff East to school, Bill and I set off for the top paddock to repair and straighten up the north boundary fence.
The day had turned out fine again, and I decided to go out 'roo shooting that night.
"You won't want the jinker tonight will you Bill?"
"No. I'll be riding. There's so many stumps in that damn road to Nyarrin it's hell driving a jinker at night."
We got back to the homestead that evening after Rupe had come back from school and Mother and Harry returned from Speed.
"I'm going out shooting tonight Mother. I'll get the things ready before tea."
I put out two horse rugs for the jinker, and took down the double barrel Hollis 12 gauge shotgun and cleaned it with a pull-through, putting it in the jinker with a couple of boxes of cartridges, and a butt of chaff with a few handfuls of oats for Chester.
"Better take that old rug off your bed son. It can get awfully cold out there just before dawn."
"Alright. Tea ready?"
"I've put yours out early. You had better have it now or there won't be enough light to see you safely out to the dam."
Rupe sat at the table while I ate. "Wish I could come. Bet I'd get a few 'roos."
"You're not old enough to use a gun out there at night," Mother said.
At the dam I unyoked Chester and tied her to a mallee tree, throwing one of the rugs across her back and turning down the top of the butt so she could feed. "There's your tucker old girl. See you in the morning."
I took the rest of the gear across to the south bank of the dam, setting the gun and cartridges down and making myself comfortable on the rug.
Across to the east the moon was rising, tinting the water of the dam with a golden sheen, a gentle breeze just wafting in from the north. A perfect night for shooting.
I lay back and relaxed. It was a good life here on the farm, but I would like to get up to Merbein again for a few days to see Emma and Rudie, and Carrie. She was a bonzer little baby. Maybe with a few kangaroo skins there would be enough money to pay my fare up and back.
My thoughts wandered aimlessly. I pulled the top rug more snugly around my shoulders, the scents of the bush warm on the night breeze, the moon ..
I woke with a start. Another rattle in the leaves of the big white mallee tree. Possums.
Slipping the gun across I broke it and fitted a cartridge into each chamber and cocked the hammers. You never waited until the 'roos were there for that. The slightest sound out of harmony with the bush, and they would be away, flying, and it was nearly time for the first to be coming into drink.
The water corrugated in patches as the breeze leaned down to sip the surface, breaking up the reflections of the moon, shattering it into glinting chips of silver.
Overhead a willy wagtail chirped and flitted, unafraid of man, perhaps listening for secrets to tell the spirits.
And then a dull thumping from the mallee grew louder. The kangaroos were coming in.
Waiting, frozen still, watching, and the first of the mob bounded to the top of the bank and stopped, looking slowly around. A beauty, a really big fellow, and the muscles rippled as, satisfied, he leaned forward onto his forefeet and swung slowly down to the water.
He was a big red, and in a few moments half a dozen others of his mob were down beside him, sipping a moment, then lifting their heads to look around.
Slowly, ever so slowly, I raised the gun until it was lined above the drinking animals. I held it, frozen, until a head came up and I squeezed the trigger for the first shot
I swung the gun tot to the side and snapped off a second shot before the animals had time to collect their wits Crash!
Two 'roos slumped forward into the water, and the others lifted away as though jerked by strings from heaven, flying the bank and crashing wildly away into the mallee.
I sprang up and ran around the dam to where they lay, grabbing first one, then the other, by the tail and dragging them around to hide over on the south bank.
It was all so simple, and I re-loaded the gun and lay down to wait again. Just wait, and in half an hour the mob would be back.
They came, silent shadows slipping over the bank, a little edgy now, but needing the water and easing gently down the bank. Soundless.
Two tongues of fire spat out, splitting the night, the harsh echoing explosions ripping the peace from the bush, and two more forms collapsed forward into the water, blood staining the shattered silver, the heavy shot, its split second of life stopped and absorbed by living flesh, buried in the gaping wounds.
Around I went at a run, and dragged them back, one at a time. Four now. They didn't stand a chance against the 12 gauge.
But one seemed to be still moving, a convulsive heaving at its belly. Funny, I thought, glancing at the wound the shot had torn, it couldn't
Then I realised. It was a doe, and the heaving was a joey in her pouch, and I slipped my hand into the warm pocket and pulled him out, fully furred and lively and quite unharmed.
Oh hell I'd never got a 'roo before with a joey ..
Holding him to my chest for warmth I took him around to where I had been lying and wrapped him in my rug. It was after midnight and chilly, and the joey must have felt the cold lying there beside me, missing the warmth of his mother, whimpering and sucking at the blanket.
Suck, suck, suck .. I wished he would stop it. Suck, suck, suck ..
With the second rug I could feel the deep, biting cold, and then I began to shiver as the awful realisation of what I had done came over me, an intense despair. I had killed the youngster's mother
Suck, suck, suck ..
I slipped my hand under the rug and pulled the joey across to me. The fur was soft and cold, and as I held him against me, the little front legs touched my chest, then slipped around my neck.
Murderer! Murderer! I was shivering, even the mopokes knew what I had done. Not moo-pook any more Murderer! Murderer! And my own voice was ringing in my ears:
"What have I done? What have I done?"
It was a ghastly crime I had committed, and the blood, the blood I had not even noticed before, was red and accusing on my hands in the moonlight.
Again my own voice rang in my ears. I was shouting out into the night. "Oh God, what have I done?"
But there was no reply, only the now dreadful silence in the crystal clarity of the silvern night, the vast empty dome, and I was forsaken, left alone to bear the full weight of a crime that threatened to crush me.
Alone, condemned and rejected by God, with the soft paws clinging to my neck, and the tears, suddenly the flooding tears of loneliness and sorry, coursing down my cheeks from deep convulsive sobs.
"Yes, I'm .., I'm on my own. I better .., better clean up this bloody mess. Home .."
I wrapped the joey back in the rug and took him down and put him under the jinker seat, going back for the horse rug and the gun.
The gun for a moment I held it high above my head, wanting to cast it out into the pink-stained water of the dam.
But it had belonged to Father.
Yoking up Chester I drove her back to the dam and loaded the four limp bodies, then climbed back into the seat and slapped the reins, making her move fast through the moonlight, caution forgotten.
When we arrived back at the homestead she was in a lather of sweat, and I had to brush her down before I could put the rug on and let her in the stall.
"Sorry old girl "
She lifted her head and nudged me on the shoulder, then buried her nose in the chaff.
I unloaded the kangaroos and pulled them into the tool shed, then pushed the jinker away and walked across to the house with the joey and the gun.
Leaving the gun in the kitchen I took the joey with me into the bedroom and pushed him under the blankets, then undressed and climbed in with him.
Sleep. Sleep would be a part of the answer, but with the warmth of the joey pressed against me I kept remembering his mother's blood spilled into the water and over my hands, and could not stop myself muttering.
"Oh God. What have I done? What have I done?"
Rupe stirred in his bed and rolled over to face me, lying there a moment before he slipped from under the blankets and came across.
"You're home early. It's only about three."
"Yeah, I know."
The joey began to whumper.
"What have you got in there Bob? That crying?"
"Oh hell Rupe. I shot its mother. Look."
"Gee " Rupe leaned forward as I turned back the bed clothes and picked the little fellow up. "Jove, he's lovely Bob. Can I have him?"
"Yeah, yeah, you can have him .."
"Isn't he a little beauty?"
"How are you going to feed him?" It made me feel better, somehow, Rupe taking him over. It was some small compensation for what I had done to his mother.
"I'll give him cow's milk. I'll get them in early and give him a feed. Jove he's nice."
The joey had his front paws around Rupe's neck and was snuggled against him.
"I've got an old teat and bottle I used for my pet lamb that time, and cow's milk should be alright if I break it down a bit with water." He smoothed the joey's fur. "Better get back into bed and warm him up."
Rupe climbed back into bed, and I turned on my side and looked out through the window into the wash of moonlight. "I'm on my own now."
"What'd you say Bob?"
"Uh? Oh, nothing Rupe. Go to sleep."
The sun was high in the sky when Rupe woke me next morning. "Come on, breakfast's ready. Mum said to let you sleep in a bit after last night."
By the time I had washed and come back into the kitchen the others had finished their breakfast. Bill must have been down to the shed to have a look at the 'roos, and walked in while I was eating.
"See you only got four last night. Big ones though. Pelts from that lot should bring quite a few bob."
I felt a shudder pass over my body.
"What's up Bob?"
"Nothing. Still a bit chilly from last night."
Bill nodded. "I'll skin them for you anyway."
Bill went out, and after I had finished I took the plates across and helped Mother with the washing up. I didn't want to go down near the sheds, but there was work to be done, and finally I had to.
"Nice skins Bob," Bill called.
I nodded, trying to avoid the pale bodies with my eyes.
"Take a tail up to the house before the flies get to it, will you. Mother might make it into soup for tonight."
I held it as far away from me as I could, running back to the kitchen and just dropping it on the bench and turning away.
"That looks nice!" Mother was pleased, "I'll make it up for tonight. We haven't had kangaroo tail soup for quite a while now."
"No," I mumbled, and went back out through the door.
"I've fed him," Rupe said from where he was nailing a wheat bag onto the wall under the verandah. "Took it real well."
"Good. What are you doing there?"
"Making a pouch for him. He can hop in and out whenever he likes then. Might make him feel at home."
Rupe had introduced the joey to Rowdy, the big staghound, and the black and tan cattle dog Clyde. It was odd to watch the way Rowdy bent over and licked the joey as though he were a young pup. Difficult to imagine it was the same dog who, running in the bush, would rip the whole throat from a big red.
"Cobbers already," Rupe said proudly.
"Well, they're skun and pegged-out for you," Bill said, coming up.
I nodded to him. I could not have done it myself.
"Lunch for two fencers," Mother said, coming out onto the verandah with a basket and billy of black tea.
Bill grinned and too them from her. "Thanks. We'll be out on the north boundary again."
We worked hard during the day, Bill complaining when I shortened our usual lunch break by starting work again. But he seemed to sense there was something the matter, and got back to work with me.
Walking back home, the setting sun casting long shadows from the mallee trees and sand hills, the coolness of coming twilight a relief after the heat of the day, my thoughts began to settle into some order, my feelings of the night before becoming more certain in my mind.
"Won't be doing any more 'roo shooting Bill."
"Eh? What's the matter?" He took the pipe from his mouth and looked across at me as we walked, his face creased in question.
"There's nothing the matter. Just won't be shooting any more kangaroos."
Bill shook his head. "What's got into you? Hell "
"Yes," I said, turning and cutting him off, feeling he had said the word I had been searching for. "Hell. That's it Bill. Hell. Hell's got into me and I can't get it out!"
Bill's mouth opened in surprise. "Wh ..at? What bloody rubbish!"
I shook my head, my voice urgent. "No, it's hell Bill. Only hell would let you shoot a kangaroo."
"For goodness sake! They're just pests! Not only eating the crop, but getting in and rolling it down! Look at the damage they do!"
I turned away and walked on, not wanting to argue.
"Jove, I don't know what's got into you," he grumbled, falling in behind.
As we walked up onto the back verandah the joey poked his head inquisitively from his bag. He looked as though he owned the place and was questioning our being there.
"Tea's ready boys."
We washed up and went into the kitchen. Harry was helping Mother serve, a big bowl of kangaroo tail soup at each place.
"What's the matter son?" Mother asked me as the others finished. "I thought you liked it?"
I moved the full bowl away from my place. "I don't know. Not any more anyway."
The evening had turned cold, and after tea we built the fire up with mallee roots and gathered around it, Mother and Bill reading, Harry working at the table where Rupe did his homework.
But somehow nothing interested me that night, and I just sat there watching pictures form in the glowing coals of the fire, trying to ignore the feeling of aloneness which had taken hold of my mind.
When Rupe finished his homework he made up a bottle of milk and water and brought the joey in, sitting with him on the rug in front of the fire, and talking all the time to his new pet.
When he had finished the bottle Rupe left him while he washed up, and Joey sat up and looked around, then moved slowly across and put his paws on my knee.
Leaning forward I caressed his head, and then, try as I did to stop them, tears began running down my cheeks.
Mother started and leaned forward in concern. Whatever is the matter son?"
Bill lifted his head from his book. "I know what's the matter with him. He's upset about shooting Joey's mother "
"Yes I am!"
"Well you listen to me Bob. Those kangaroos are nothing but pests. It's bad enough they fill their bellies on our crop, but they have to roll around in it and break down fences too! They're just damn pests, and they have to be got rid of just like any other pest." He set his jaw. "And listen, their skins are bringing good prices overseas, and that's income for our country."
"Bill," Mother cautioned. "The lad's upset."
"Well he shouldn't be! Kangaroo shooting's a business to come people. They're making a good living shooting them for export up in the west of New South Wales, and they make damn good meat for the dogs!" He began to forget the reason he had started his speech, thinking of ways to make money from them. "You could tin them like they do mutton and Bully Beef and sell it for dog food. Export it. We need exports. Look what Billy Hughes was saying about sending all the wheat we can to England with this German submarine blockade on. We can't let the 'roos have it while people are starving in England can we?"
Bill was really wound up. He went onto repeat from the newspaper that our Prime Minister had said when he was in England that Australia would give her last man and her last shilling to help England beat the Germans.
"Ought to get him a Knighthood at least," Harry commented from the table.
"Now don't get off the subject," Bill said, turning on Harry. "We're talking about kangaroos. Shooting them's something every farmer ".
"But ", I started.
"Now, don't you interrupt Bob. Just listen to me."
"Well can I say something when you've finished?"
Bill nodded and went back to explaining why we had to get rid of the kangaroos. "So," he finished, "there's nothing to argue about."
Harry turned around in his chair. "Can I ask you a question Bill?"
"Fire away," said Bill largely.
Harry took a moment to speak, waiting until we were all curious. "I was wondering Bill, I just can't seem to recall. Have you ever shot or killed a kangaroo yourself?"
Bill seemed surprised. He frowned, glanced around the rest of us, and back to Harry. "Ah, no. No, I don't think I have."
"Well, you're a bit like our Prime Minister then, aren't you? He's never fired a shot or killed a man, but he's up there telling us we have to go and do just that." Harry shook his head. "Seems to me the world's full of people telling the other fellow what he has to do and like it."
Bill climbed slowly to his feet, bunching his hands into fists. "All this bloody discussion over a few lousy kangaroos. Ah, it makes me sick. I'm going to bed."
Mother was rather upset by the whole affair. She didn't say anything, but a few minutes later she put her book away and said goodnight.
After she had gone Harry tidied up his bookwork and turned to me. "See if you can leave it lie now Bob. I don't want you and Bill arguing when you go into Speed tomorrow. I don't like it and it upsets Mother."
I nodded. "Alright Harry."
"Never mind Bob," Rupe said, and picked up Joey. "Come on you young shaver. Bedtime for you."
At breakfast the next morning Mother gave Bill a list of the things to be done in Speed. He had to 'phone an agent in Woomelang about the sale of some horses, collect something here, buy something there.
"Alright," Bill protested. "I won't forget anything."
Rupe left to get Snowy for school, and Harry came down to help me get two other ponies and put them in the buggy, Bill arriving carrying the shotgun and a box of shells.
"What are they for?" I asked him.
Bill was casual, pushing the gun and the shells under the seat of the buggy. "Thought we might see a 'roo. Like to show you how I shoot them."
Harry was disgusted. "I wish you'd forget the damn kangaroos."
But we didn't sight even one on the trip in, and I heaved a sight of relief as we drove into speed. Bill went straight to the Post Office to make the call to Woomelang, and then there was the shopping and a chat to Jack Thrower, the local agent, and we decided to stay for lunch as a bit of a change from the farm.
"Ah well, suppose we better be getting back," Bill said, standing and stretching. "Don't want to get home in the dark."
I had been trying to think of a way to make Bill see things about kangaroos my way, and driving home, relaxed after the slow lunch, seemed a good time.
"Listen Bill. I've been working out how much of the crop the kangaroos actually damage or eat."
"Oh yeah. Well they certainly went to town in the wheat in the north paddock."
"I know that, but I've worked it out they only come into the crop about a chain, and with the boundary of the wheat paddocks being about twenty chain altogether, that's only around two acres of crop. That's not much in three hundred acres Bill, and even if we got that high average of eight bags to the acre again, that's only sixteen bags."
Bill rubbed his chin thoughtfully, turning the ponies around a stump. "But, after all, it is sixteen bags." He shook his head. "Yeah, I suppose I know what you mean Bob."
He slowed the ponies from the main road into the track running south along our boundary towards the home gate, driving by habit, his eyes seeming to be on some view far beyond the reach of eyesight.
Away ahead I saw the pair of kookaburras swoop down into the sugar gum at the home gate where they usually camped for the night, and then off to one side, moving easily along the south fence towards the gate, a big red kangaroo.
Oh hell, I thought. This is it.
When he came to the gate the 'roo stopped and stood up on his tail, resting his paws on one of the gate posts.
Bill glanced at me. He had seen him too, and twenty yards from the gate he eased the horses to a stop and picked up the shotgun.
"Watch me get Mr Red." He fitted two cartridges into the gun and closed it, stepping down from the buggy and walking slowly towards the kangaroo, a big specimen standing at least six feet high as he rested on the gate post.
"Go," I wanted to shout. "Go, blast you. Go!"
But he stood his ground, and Bill didn't stop until he was fifteen feet away.
"That's it brother Bill," I called softly. "You shoot him. You're the boss, you've got the gun. You don't even have to aim from that distance. Just squeeze the trigger and you'll blast a hole through his beautiful chest as big as your hand and he'll fall down at your feet. You wait until you see his blood run out."
Bill's leathery, blue-rose face, hard and lean from the sun and winds and work of the Mallee, seemed to whiten, the veins swelling in his neck and temples.
"Shut up!" he hissed fiercely from the side of his mouth.
"Go on!" I called. "Destroy the most beautiful creature God ever made." I was beginning to feel sick. "We're the only country in the world to have them. Shoot him and put him in a can for England, but don't think it's going to prove to me you're a man. We've destroyed their natural food, rolled and burned their mallee, and they've eaten sixteen lousy bags of our wheat. So kill him! Kill him and prove we don't deserve to own this country. We're not worth of it!"
"Shut up!" Bill snarled again, and lifted the gun.
Shaking, I climbed down from the buggy and stood beside it, a hand gripping the wheel, the tears streaming down my cheeks.
A pair of magpies dropped from the sky and settled on fence posts. The kookaburras chuckled sleepily into the still air. The kangaroo twitched an ear.
"Go on Bill," I sobbed. "Shoot him and get it over with!"
The whole of Bill's body stiffened, tightened, the muscles of his neck and arms stood out, and then slowly, with a long sigh of breath, the muscles loosened, the gun pointed down to the earth, and Bill stepped towards the kangaroo.
"Shoo!" he said. "Go on, clear off!"
The kangaroo looked him straight in the face.
"For God's sake!" Bill yelled, waving the gun. "Clear off ..!"
One of the big red's paws flicked at some annoyance on his nose, then he took one slow bound forward, lifted sideways over the fence into our horse paddock with effortless ease, and away across the ground in long bounds, the great hind feet kicking young wheat shoots from the ground each time they touched down.
"Go on!" Bill shouted. "Go and get all your cobbers and bring them back to fill their bellies and roll around in the crop!" And he leaned forward and began to shake with almost hysterical laughter.
Suddenly I became aware of the pain in my hand, taking it from the wheel and looking at it in surprise, white with two red weals across it. I began to rub it, looking up as Bill came towards me pulling the cartridges from the gun.
"Well," he said. "Jove ..". He was stuck for words, and simply shook his head and lay a hand on my shoulder.
Across on the fence posts the two magpies burst suddenly into the pure warble of the northern magpie, and from the tall sugar gum came the sound of the kookaburras. A tentative chortle in the backs of their throats, a short rattle, then, beaks thrown back, they burst into their shattering laughter that hammered out through the evening into the bush and came bouncing back in echo.
"By jove they're right!" Bill cried, and threw back his head and laughed with them, his hand gripping my shoulder and shaking my body with his own until I was laughing along with him.
No longer alone. No longer an outcast.
That cry from the banks of the dam had gone out into the vast reaches of space. Out and out and out until it had reached the source of all comfort. And now the answer had come back.
"What's up with you two?" Rupe called, riding up on Snowy, school bag around his neck, stopping a few feet away, cautious. "I saw you let him go Bill. You didn't even take a shot!"
"You get on home and get the cows in and make sure Joey's fed," Bill ordered. "Go on."
Rupe eased Snowy away another couple of feet. "I reckon you've both gone mad!" he cried, and kicked Snowy into a canter to the gate.
"Never been more sane in my life!" Bill yelled after him, and slapping me on the back climbed up into the buggy.
Back at the homestead Harry walked down from the verandah to meet us. "What's the joke?"
"Tell you in a bit."
The three of us put the ponies away and carried the goods, mail and newspaper up to the house. Mother seemed rather anxious when we came in, but it must have been concern for us because her face broke into smiles the moment she realised Bill and I had settled our differences and were cobbers again.
"Haven't been through the mail yet," Bill said, handing it to Mother. "Tell you how we got on over tea."
Mother glanced at the envelopes and put them aside. "We can have tea as soon as Rupert gets in from the cows."
After tea we sat around the fire and Mother went through the mail. "One for you Bob."
"Give us a look," Rupe said, leaning forward. "Ah ha! That's a girl's writing! Letters from girls now? I wonder who?"
I had seen that writing once before, when Eva Miners had shown me the beginning of her poem. "I'll read it to you later perhaps Rupe." I walked into the front room where Harry had gone and sat picking notes from the piano as he searched for a tune. He took no notice of me so I opened the envelope and pulled the letter out.
It was addressed from the Myall.
"I don't think you will consider me presumptuous in writing this note, but we would like to see if you are over our way again. My brothers would like to have a talk to you, so please call in if you happen to be passing.
"You may be pleased to learn I got my Merit Certificate at school, and I have finished that little poem you looked at. I know you will not laugh, so have enclosed a copy for you to read.
"I do trust you and your family are well, as we are at present.
"With kind regards,
I took the second slip from the envelope and read slowly through her poem:
"To foreign lands, and distant shores, I often yearn to be,
But how can I leave this land of mine, my heart is a prisoner, see.
The rolling hills, the countryside, the mallee trees, sweet-scented earth,
Give unto me, continued life, my mother gave at birth.
I taste the pure and succulent air, breathe the scent of wattle,
This land of mine is jealous, and holds me in her clasp,
As if to say, you'll not depart, for I have claimed your heart."
"This land of mine, of endless time, of centuries departed,
Has treasures stored, to give, dear Lord,
To her sons that are stout-hearted.
You are my keeper, she seems to say,
Care for my treasures to your dying day.
The wallaby and kangaroo,
The possums in the trees,
The koalas that gently sway,
On the boughs of the tall gum trees.
Australia is your heritage,
Turn not her treasures to dust,
But jealously you'll guard them,
If with your life you must."
I stood there and read the poem through a second time. Mother would like this, I decided, and took it back to the fire to show her.
Mother read it through to herself, her lips moving silently, then smiled up at me and called for Harry to come in and listen.
Harry closed the lid of the piano and came in, leaning on the back of Mother's chair while she read Eva's poem out to us.
"Well," said Bill after a moment's thought. "There's nothing to argue about there. Them's my sentiments exactly." He looked into the fire a moment. "You know, I reckon I'll write a letter to our State and Federal members and ask them what they're going to do about protecting our native animals. They'll jolly well have to do something."
I saw Mother glance quickly up at Harry, and his quick wink to her.
"Jove yes," Bill went on. "I'll write them tomorrow."
Later, lying on my back in bed, the sound of the piano coming from the other room, I looked from the window into the silvery night and felt the peace of the bush wash over me.
Peace. I closed my eyes. "Thank you for having me back Lord. It's an awful thing to be on your own."
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