The Gunfight at the Carnarvon Road Corral. Bruce McCorkill August 2012
The plan was very simple. The family gangs – big sis’s, little sis’s and mine, had to ride across the range, rob the ancestral bank, divide up the loot and go back to our ranches. An easy heist, so we oiled and loaded our guns, recruited some gunslingers, and rode. We hoped we could agree on dividing the loot and avoid a bloodthirsty family gunfight.
Whoa, I’m exaggerating slightly. The actual plan was for my two sisters and me to spend a day at our father’s house after he died. A friendly day, sorting out who got what, reminiscing about family times, a time to celebrate our parents’ life. But it was not quite that simple.
Mum and dad lived in a big house full of accumulated possessions of 50 years of marriage. Mum died first. This was simple, her clothes went to the op shop and the jewellery divided between my sisters. When dad died, the situation changed. The folks had some decent furniture and over the years we had all laid claim to various items, including our spouses who wanted their fair share to compensate for putting up with our family for years. So we were in general agreement about the main valuable things. But there was a host of others – furniture, cabinets, crystal, crockery, books and a shed full of tools, which I had my eye on.
Subconsciously we knew it would be tricky deciding the split. After mum died we postponed it as we were anticipating some disputes, but when dad went we had to act.
Little sis, being the control freak took charge, nominating the day and the process. Big sis was no problem, her tastes were different. She could happily grab the crystal cabinets, brocade furniture, rose painted crockery, standard lamps and the spoon display. This would leave little sis and me free to argue about the rest, and we had a history of sibling rivalry.
My wife couldn’t be there until after lunch so I felt like the lone ranger up against Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday. Big sis brought her hubby and teenage son, and little sis only brought her hubby, but he was a mean street fighter counting as two, so I was outgunned from the start. Just have to shoot faster till Tonto arrived.
My sisters and I started in the house, itemising things, deciding who got what, and working out values. The guys started outside trawling through the tools, so as we went through the rooms I tried to peek outside to see what they were up to.
No problems with big sis, she was predictable. “Oh look at Mum’s old crystal cabinet, so beautiful, I always loved this, I feel like crying. Can I please I have this?”“Of course you can. And also take the lovely brocade couch and Jason recliners, and the standard lamps, plus all the lovely old floral plates, mum would be so pleased.”
Great work, big sis has been peacefully disarmed, and now the gunfight can really start. Little sis and I loosen our holsters and cock our guns.
Little sis fires first. “You know the chaise lounge that I was promised, it’s in really poor condition and very shabby, I think we put only a couple of dollars value on it.”Did she think I was born yesterday? I have gone on the internet and valued nearly all the furniture in the place, and know that her chaise lounge is actually quite a valuable antique.
Next shot. “Bruce, you know the old wardrobe you were promised. I think it’s worth quite a lot, we should put a big value on that one.”How thick is little sis? OK she now lives in Queensland and that’s some excuse, but I know that piece is an old false French polished thing, only worth sentimental value to my wife.
I haul out the shotgun and fire a blast. “Listen, I am insisting that we get an official valuation on everything over five dollars.” Little sis reluctantly agrees and round one to me. But the sharpshooters outside are quickly sorting out the tools, I need to get out there real fast.
Time for a delaying tactic while I can reload. “Sis, it’s a hot day, I’m tired, let’s have an early lunch.” Big sis who is always keen for a meal and cuppa, like her mother, agrees, so we sit down to lunch, and I eat slowly, hoping the cavalry will arrive soon.
After lunch, we continue the painful task of sorting out the stuff. But it’s taken two hours to sort out one room, we have been arguing in the pantry over who gets mum’s old stock of plum jam over strawberry jam, who gets the bottling kit or the pressure cooker. Luckily, the cavalry arrives, and my wife has brought my young son. Good, another set of guns.
My son the young gunslinger. Doesn’t ask, just does. Summed up the situation instantly, conspired with his cousin to form their own gang and went in with guns blazing. So while the grown up gangs were painfully sorting out the next room, the junior gang ambushed us and stormed through the house grabbing everything that was not nailed down, hauled it out to the front lawn, and had a great time swapping things. Then went down the street to buy a coke with money they found in Dad’s bedside table. Just like junior versions of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
When we finally reach the next room, it’s empty. Plus the next room, and so on. The kids have ransacked the house, with everything sitting on the front lawn. Little sis has been outgunned and holsters her weapon. Nothing left to fight about, it’s all been sorted out by Butch and Sundance. Big sis doesn’t care, she has her crystal cabinets, I am hoping to now finally get outside to get some of the tools.
So the great gunfight at Carnarvon Road Corral finally ends. We make peace, and ride home across the range. I did receive a letter from little sis later saying unkind things about uncontrollable children, and she is still trying to find out where that little jar of cumquat jam went to, but I ignore this as I eat my toast buttered with that tasty jam.
After all of my fancy gunplay, I didn’t get any of Dad’s tools; the outside guys were just too fast for me. I had wanted a massive engineer’s vice of Dad’s, but in a karmic kind of way, I got it ten years later when big sis’s husband unfortunately died and she gave it to me.
This tale is now embedded in family folklore, growing with each year. The boys probably didn’t totally ransack the place, but it sure felt like that at the time. The old house is now replaced by a double storied monstrosity, but as I use the old wardrobe, I think about little sis gracefully reclining on her chaise lounge and big sis stuffing more floral cups in her crystal cabinet, and I have a little chuckle about the plan that kind of worked.