outback musings

After a morning of watching cattle of all ages, colours and genders being herded through clanging metal gates so they could be tagged and vaccinated, the sounds and smells took me back to the times I’ve spent on my friends cattle station in Barcaldine. Meagan, a dear friend I had known for most of my life, died from Cystic Fibrosis in may 1999. She had always wanted me to visit, but there was always one of us sick. When I had my transplant in 1998, the risk of cross infection was too great and we lost our angel.

In 2001, I decided to do a pilgrimage of sorts to Cumberland – the cattle station where Meags grew up. I’ve returned a few times over the years, though the time I spend with Meagan’s Mum, Dad and two sisters is always too short lived. When I have to leave, I wail about returning to the city. Sorrow rolls over me like the heavy blankets of heat do, while the silence really is deafening as it beats a bloody tune around your ears.

As I unfurled my body on the first morning; my bones, sinew and muscles meshing back together, I discovered a deep and knowing love and understanding of the land – and we all know that true love lasts a lifetime.

Wednesday 2nd October, 2002

one gone, one strong

Today we had an experience of blatant irony. We transplanted two trees. The first looked like it had more guts to it – fatter trunk, leaves more splayed, plump branches and not on too much of a lean. Then the other – gaunt like a ghost gum. Both were Coolabahs. Threadbare leaves; no veins running through the ashen foliage and no spirit about it. And so today came the tale of the two trees.

Kerry briskly dug one out next to the old shearers quarters. The next, he dragged up at the bull ring – bobcat bouncing like a rubber dinghy in a choppy swell. His kids visiting from Warwick looked on as their Dad tried to uproot them as gently as possible, which seemed fairly odd considering he was unclotting them from such dry soil with a dirty excavator.

One by one, he dragged them out of the ground and drove them back to the homestead, dumping the trees where Katrina pointed, her freckled hands nursing a cup of coffee. Earlier, Kerry had dug the holes where the trees would be transplanted and Katrina had shoved a hose deep into each well to drown the soil – the only element they could survive with.

Both in, we let the water run for another half hour and soon enough, the weakling was on a lean. Jay poured a rum, Sue had a wine and Katrina and I had a beer, minds mulling over the flat plains as the sun set deep behind mountains I couldn’t see, seemingly sinking into a far off ocean to shave off a few billion degrees.

Jay is a man of few words, but he looked over to the trees and said something about ‘waiting and seeing.’ I think the day had brought with it heavy thoughts of his daughter who had to lean into death, then he looked to the girl who clawed her way back to life – me, sucking on an amber neck, absorbed in the minutes leading to sapphire skies, just like Jay.

Sundown at Cumberland Station

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