- A Powerful Excerpt -
Winner of two awards in the
Australian National Literary Awards: 2007 & 2011
Here is another piece from one of my books, 'Gunnedah Hero', that I consider to be reasonably powerful. What do you think? It was written by Smokey Danson, the main character in this book, whist he was droving cattle on what we call The Long Paddock - pushing his surviving cattle along the sides of the public roads, searching for feed and water to keep them alive in Australia in 1910. This piece relates to knowledge that Smokey gained from an Aboriginal drover, Magic Billie, he had met along the way. Smokey nicknamed Billie 'Magic' after the Aboriginal had taught him many bush survival techniques; what we call 'Bush Magic'. This piece also highlights the loyalty of Smokey's cattle dogs.
By dusk my camp had been set up and the mob was resting, chewing their cud, all of us satisfied to have found an oasis. By nightfall I’d snared a fox and a hare for the dogs, had eaten dinner and was readying myself to start a new letter to Molly and my parents. Two things had been on my mind since we’d left Gunnedah: how my parents would react to the large sum of money I’d inherited, and whether rain had fallen on Wiralee. If follow-up rains had arrived, maybe I could sell our cattle in Armidale and return to Wiralee with the proceeds of the sale.
Just after dinner I started to feel awful. At first I felt light-headed and dizzy then I broke into a sweat and felt feverish. In no time at all I was soaked in perspiration and my head was thumping. I was worried. Being alone and sick was the last thing I wanted. But as my condition worsened, some of Billie’s advice about bush medicine came back to me. I grabbed the lamp and my diary and flipped through its pages until I found some notes I’d written. I rested my diary in my lap and scanned through my notes.
‘There,’ I muttered. ‘The camel tree or Bardirri. Burn the bark in a fire and rub the ashes on the body to cool down.’ With perspiration pouring from my forehead I reached across and opened one of my saddlebags where I’d stored some bark from the bardirri. I placed the bark on the edge of the campfire and wiped my brow with my sleeve. My temples felt like they were about to explode and my face was on fire. I turned back to my notes. Although the camel tree bark would cool me down it would not treat the cause of the fever. Something else had to be done to fix that. ‘Turpentine bush or Beyeria. Boil leaves in billy and drink to reduce a fever,’ I read, and struggled to concentrate. ‘Turpentine bush. Now where did I see that?’ I recalled seeing one near the spot where I’d shot the fox. Unfortunately it was some distance from our camp and I risked collapsing somewhere in the dark whilst searching for it. I had no choice, though. The fever had to be reduced as quickly as possible.
Jedda and Roscoe had sensed something was wrong. Both dogs watched me as I struggled to stand up. With the lamp in one hand and a rough stick as a walking aid in the other, I set off in the general direction of the turpentine bush. My eyes stung and my legs were weak but the dogs followed me loyally as I stumbled along in search of the required leaves. We hadn’t gone far when I tripped and landed flat on my face. I hollered in pain. Dazed, I looked for the lamp. Luckily, it was still alight and the glass lens hadn’t broken.
‘Thank God,’ I muttered. Starting a bushfire was the last thing I needed. Desperate, I reached out and clumsily grabbed the lamp. ‘Ouch!’ I bellowed. The searing heat had burnt my hand and my shout alarmed the dogs. Roscoe sat beside me and gave a short, sharp bark. Jedda leaned over and licked my face. I appreciated their affection but I was too ill to offer them praise. Struggling to my feet, I shuffled for a few more yards before I saw what I was looking for. It was not the turpentine bush I’d seen previously. It was another, bigger one. With a pocket full of leaves I turned and staggered back toward camp. Fortunately the glow of my campfire made it easy to find my way.
While I waited for the leaves in the billy can to boil I grabbed the bark of the camel tree that I’d placed on the edge of the fire. It was still hot so I rubbed it in the dry earth until it was cool enough to use. Eager to cool my face, I rubbed the bark between my hands then wiped it all over my face and neck. Billie was right. It was magic. I felt immediate relief. Loading the fire with logs, I crawled under my swag and pulled Cracker’s horse blanket and my moleskin coat on top of me. My plan was simple: drink the liquid from the turpentine leaves and reduce the fever by perspiring it out. I drank two pannikins of tea laced with leaves from the turpentine bush and felt the special concoction working almost immediately. Perspiration began pouring off me. The liquid had a strange taste but I trusted Billie’s remedies. I patted the two dogs and blew out the lamp, hoping my body would release whatever had caused the fever.
The following morning I woke with a start. I felt fur close to my cheeks and something was lying across my feet. I opened my eyes to see Jedda lying beside me. When I raised my head, I saw Roscoe with both paws and his chin on my legs. I looked at them and smiled. The fever had gone and my dogs had shown extraordinary loyalty and compassion.
‘Morning, Jedda. Morning, Roscoe.’ I sat up and gave them both a big hug, realising how many special moments had occurred since I’d left home; moments I’d shared only with my wonderful dogs. I changed into dry clothes and washed my soiled clothes in the lake before preparing a hearty breakfast. The experience of the night before had taught me a couple of things. One was that I wanted to learn all I could about Billie’s bush magic. It was remarkable. Another was that if my dream of using the miners’ gold to transform Wirralee Station into a wonderful property was to come true, I’d need help. The name of one man came to mind. A smart and honest drover I’d been fortunate to meet on the long paddock, a drover who’d treated me like a brother. ‘Got to tell Dad we need Magic Billie at Wiralee.’
Clancy's comment: Well, what did you think? Did it get you involved, wanting to flip the page to find out what happened next? This was one of several times when Smokey found himself alone, and in trouble. Want to read more? Okay, head to the 'Gunnedah Hero Reviews' above and read some great reviews. Then, head to my book shop at the top right hand corner of this post and buy a paperback or e-book. Having done that, you might also like to buy the sequel - A Drover's Blanket; a powerful tale about Smokey's girlfriend, Molly, whilst he was on the long paddock trying to survive and keep his cattle alive.