In my sparsely furnished hut, the lonely blowfly’s wings made pleasant music to my ears as he flew from one end of the single room to the other never touching either wall, it’s kind of strange how something you have never liked becomes a comfort as you grow older and live alone.
I sat shadowed inside and gazed through the open door out across the shimmering red dusty landscape, sparsely dotted with dwarfed trees and struggling shrubs, even the cruel 45 degree temperature winds had stopped blowing as though exhausted and feeling remorse for the destruction and cruelty it had created to the animals, birds and flora.
Dust was rising slowly far to the left of my view, like a ribbon it was heading my way, could this be a visitor? The dust grew closer I was too far from the road to see any vehicle, the dust trail got closer and closer, my heart lifted, but the dust moved on past my disused driveway and headed towards the distant low hills, where the blazing sun rose each morning bringing hope and heartache to all forms of struggling life in this thirsty land.
Once again I walked the long and rough driveway to the gravel roadway, the mailman has not stopped now for several months and the grocer never sends any supplies now. Some tea, flour, sugar, matches and jam would have helped a lot but you can’t expect credit when you have not payed your account for several months. They may even think I had moved on.
The battered four gallon Ampol drum I used for a mail box lay on the ground full of bullet holes and squashed by a large rock. I used the same rock to beat it back into a usable shape again hoping to find a letter or a paper someday.Well used rusty rabbit traps now hang immobile on the side of the weathered timber hut, no use setting them anymore the rabbits have either died or moved on trying to find water they are tough critters but the end is the end, the kangaroos left a long time ago but the sheep and cattle were the first to suffer getting bogged only to die in the muddy water holes.
Some evenings promising black clouds rim the horizon; during the evening darkness you can see lightning. As the crimson sun rises slowly over the distant rim of hills the next morning the clouds are not to be seen, no rain again, its sheer torment.
Midday and it’s hard to breath the oxygen seems to have left the air and no where can you find relief from the searing sun, but there is always beauty to be seen in this land as the Willy Willies gather speed and suck up any loose leaves, twigs and dry grass in a whirlpool and dance across the dry dusty plains on some mysterious distant voyage supported by the swirling water-less red dusty air.
Bluey my black healer dog had been with me since a pup. His barking and insistent growling had me witness him defending his water bowl from an angry yellow bellied snake looking for a drink of water. Bluey snarled and bit the snake and shook its writhing body, shaking his head from side to side in a whipping action, Bluey and the snake were in a death struggle. I grabbed the long-handled shovel and with several desperate strokes I managed to kill the snake, but to late, Bluey was in pain, the snake had bitten Bluey on his soft nose, several minutes later he died in my arms. With a breaking heart and large tears in my eyes I buried Bluey on the shady side of the empty wood shed, that was over a year ago but the agony and pain is still within my broken heart.
Long ago the white cockatoos left and headed south to the red gums forests along the Murray river but there where to many of them to stay, so the stronger birds flew further south to the red gums along the banks of the Yarra river and the Diamond Creek, I don’t think many will return to this barren land even when it rains, all the undertakers (the black crows) have gone to nothing to clean up or eat now only dry white bones getting covered with the red dust each wind gust covers them more and more, soon you will see very little evidence life ever existed here at all.
All the newspapers have been used long ago to light the fire, so I am pleased I kept the empty 5lb fig jam tin, it is a large one a half-gallon can in size. It’s label is all I have to read now, it has a beautiful picture of three figs surrounded by their green leaves, I have read it so many times that I nearly know every word by heart. It was produced and packed by the Goulburn Valley Canneries in Victoria. I have never been there, but it must be a fertile area to produce such great fruit. The recipe on the label tells how to make a jam tart with a pastry base. I made one when the can was new and loved every mouthful. How I would love one now. Jam lasts a long time in the dusty outback; just pull back the lid and dig some out when you have toast or Damper with a cuppa tea. The label is brown now and threatens to crumble and fall away from the rusting can unless I use very gentle hands.
The friendly black and white magpie “Winston” came to the door every morning and I would give him some bread crumbs and he would warble a long song to say thanks and cheer me up. For two long days he did not turn up, I found him lying lifeless in the sticky mud in the smelly drying water hole, I picked him up and carried him to his favourite bush near the hut where he often perched and waited for me to come outside, I buried him under his favourite shrub which is now also lifeless, dry and brittle above the dry hot red sand. The wind has blown a lot of the sand away now. Sometimes I can see some of his wing feathers waving in the wind as if beckoning me over to sit awhile with him. I do go and stay awhile because we are still friends.
White gum trees are very rare in this harsh country and how this one got to grow here over a hundred years ago only God knows. It has seen and helped many generations of Cockatoos and Grass parrots live and breed in its hollow limbs and provide me with firewood as various limbs died and fell to the ground, but not anymore, not many limbs carry any life to the leaves now, most are dry and brittle, just one struggling branch with green leaves begging for rain, after all the years it had helped me, I feel it is asking me now for help, share some or your tank water with me please. If only I could, but there is only two rungs of water left in my storage tank and still no sign of rain, will this cruel drought ever end?
You do a lot of thinking of times gone by when there is little to do, boys think back to their father, how he taught them the skills of life, how to love and be strong, how to be friends with animals and to have the wisdom to kill some in times of survival. I was young and full of magical spirit I could do anything, I had no fear. I remember dad’s balding head and I said with magical assurance your hair will grow again and each night I rubbed baby oil into his scalp and with great patience he sat there as though enjoying our time together, he never went completely bald, and he always told me he was 42 years old even up to the day he died. He lived a full life and somehow he is living a second life through me as I carry his wisdom and spirit within. I wonder if my son remembers any of my wisdom and skills and will he carry me in his spirit until he too has time to sit back and look back upon our lives.
There is only a small amount of flour left for black jacks and Damper. I am feeling the many days of pains of hunger, if only I could muster the energy and gather some firewood and start the fire with the magnifying glass before the sun goes down. The lighting kerosene has all gone and all the candles except for a two-inch butt girthed by melted wax and two matches I have carefully guarded for emergency. I go to bed early these dark nights and only sit up late now when there is a full moon to see and play my home-made game of drafts. You need a mate to help play this game properly but when you are on your own you always win somehow.
Mid afternoon and the sun was shining brightly not a cloud to be seen anywhere it was very hot and I sat on the corner of the rough bunk bed again reading the label on the fig jam tin listening to the musical wings of the blowfly circling within the walls of the hot hut. Why is it growing dim? the sun is still well above the horizon, as I stared out towards the white gum tree it became dimmer and harder to see, it’s almost black now and the blowfly still flying around was becoming more silent now, I dropped my beloved jam tin and the label now separated from the rusty bent tin, the label fell and broke into several fragments on the floor. I fell gently backwards onto the bunk bed in pain from hunger, weary and tired, as I started to drift away, laying there I saw a bright light and a GOLDEN TRUMPET at the end of a long dark tunnel and my mind drifted back over my life’s journey from childhood, ending suddenly at this present day, I now feel very relaxed and at peace.
Is that rain falling on the rusty tin roof?