Hilda Oakley

Australian author and poet

   Oct 02

The Ride Home

On the station, Jack knew the time had come to leave home and look for work. His sheep station was very small, more like a hobby farm compared to the other larger sheep rearing outfits in the area.

He applied for work around the district, which at this time of the year was hard to find. He eventually joined up with a gang of roving shearers. These guys worked the area as a team, moving from station to station over a period of three months of the year, or until the shearing season was completed. This job could earn him some well needed cash in the hand, which would keep his family going until his own herd of sheep were ready to be sheared.

x x x

Jack fitted in well with this crew, as he had done a lot of shearing in his earlier years before deciding to buy a property of his own. He looked rough and untidy, having a full facial, scruffy grey beard. He wore an old pair of faded, blue denim jeans patched at the knees and a faded black singlet, which he proudly told everyone that he owned two of. His boots were scuffed and downtrodden and looked the worse for wear. His prized possession was his fob watch, which was attached to his belt and had been passed on down to him from his grandfather. His hands were hard and calloused and he spoke with a loud, gruff, booming voice, but after getting to know him, they found he really had a soft and tender heart.

The gang of shearers worked relentlessly twelve hours a day, six days a week. The seventh day they rested and recuperated, usually at the nearest pub.

As the weeks went by, Jack became the crew’s top No.1 ‘gun shearer’. He was their best and fastest, clipping the most sheep per day.

The shearing shed was hot and sweaty. Perspiration trickled through the shearer’s singlets and down their back. Their whole body became a lather of sweat mixed with lanoline from the sheep’s wool. Their trousers were smeared with tar from the tar stick, used to dab on any unfortunate nicks made to the sheep.

x x x

Three months on the move were up and the shearing season was coming to an end. Jack had to return home to his wife and children, who were looking after the farm while he was away.
He also had to hurry back to the farm to shear his own flock of sheep.

The shearing had taken him through many properties and across many districts. He found his work had taken him fifty miles from home. He had to travel across country and along rough stock route tracks on horseback. Jack avoided travelling the main road because of danger of being held up by ‘highway men’ who quite frequently operated in the area. Having three months wages in his saddle bags would make him an easy target. The journey would take him about a three day ride, meandering his way through forests and across farmland.
While travelling along the dusty trail through the bush, Jack noticed how tall the red gum trees were swaying high up in the evening breeze. Scattered in the scrub below were beautiful, picturesque, bright yellow wattle trees.

Approaching a clearing, Jack could see in the distance acres and acres of farmland planted with sunflowers. Riding down the hill he came upon a small bubbling brook. After his long day of riding, his throat was parched and dry.

As evening was drawing nigh he decided that this would be the perfect place to spend the night. Finding a sheltered spot away from the breeze, he searched for kindling and started a fire to boil his billy. Collecting water from the creek, he sat back and waited for the water in the billy to boil before dropping in the tea leaves.

The creek flowed into a large pond where blue-tail dragon flies hovered above the water, looking for a place to land. At the water’s edge bulrushes grew, tall and strong like spears. Beautifully coloured water lilies were scattered all over the pond. Some were virginal white, like a bride’s dress. On one lily pad leaf was a tiny blue spotted frog all alone, softly ribbeting to itself.

Jack looked up and noticed perched high in the branches above were dozens and dozens of sulphur crested cockatoos, squeaking and squawking. They were making themselves at home for the night, staying close to their food source, the local farmer’s sunflower seed plantation.

He heated his can of bully beef over the open fire and ate it heartily straight from the can, washing it down with a mug of hot tea. Jack then unsaddled his horse and tethered it nearby. He unrolled his swag and laid the blanket out on some soft dry grass, ready for a good night’s sleep.

He kept the fire going during the night to keep warm. Curling up in his swag, he drifted off to sleep, to the sound of dingoes howling in the distance.

Waking early the following morning to the sound of squawking cockatoos, Jack had a quick breakfast, then saddled his horse and hit the road for an early start.

It was about midday and he had travelled quite a few miles that morning, when in the distance he could see three or four men moving sheep out of a farm paddock and onto the stock route trail

At the last town he passed through he was told about a group of rustlers, stealing sheep, cattle, or whatever they could get their hands on. They all rode appaloosa horses. Jack quickly put two and two together and realized what these guys were up to. He quickly pulled his horse off the track and headed to the nearest farmhouse.

Reaching the homestead, he informed the occupants of what he thought was going on, and asked if maybe they had some of their farm hands moving sheep in that area. The farmer gathered his men together. Each was given a gun. They saddled up their horses and within minutes were riding out of sight. A short time later, the sound of shotguns could be heard echoing in the distance.

Jack didn’t bother to wait around to see the outcome. He’d done what he could. Riding off, taking a different route to avoid any confrontation, he hoped that justice had prevailed.

On reaching his own property, he dismounted to open the slip-rails. Leading his horse through, he put the rails back in place to ensure none of his own stock could escape.

Approaching the homestead, he was enthusiastically greeted by his wife Rachel and his excited children, who were all happy to have their Dad home again.


Hilda Oakley
Copyright © 28.05.2012

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