A bushmans tail, p.1
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       A Bushman's Tail, p.1

           Lindsay Johannsen
 
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A Bushman's Tail
A BUSHMAN’S TAIL

  Copyright Lindsay Johannsen 2014

  National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-publication Data:

  Author: Johannsen, Lindsay Andrew

  Title: A Bushman’s Tail

  Cover art and design by the author.

  A novel: “McCullock’s Gold”

  “Uncle Jasper and the Eighty Acres” – a short story.

  To order the McCullock’s Gold paperback version or contact the author please visit

  www.vividpublishing.com.au/lajohannsen

  A BUSHMAN’S TAIL

  What do you know about min-min lights?” Teddy Washpan asked me late one night. We’d finished our meal by this time, cleaned and put away our plates and closed the tucker box. Now, with the half moon up, we were relaxing by the campfire with a smoke and a mug of tea.

  “Min-min lights” are a phenomenon peculiar to Western Queensland. Long time legends have it they are ghostly spheres of phosphorescence which drift about the tablelands of a still frosty night, usually within a few metres of the ground. Actual sightings are rare and visitors to the area tend to regard the stories as “colourful local legends”. Western Queenslanders firmly believe in their existence, however, and those alleged to have seen them tend not to labour the subject.

  As for Teddy Washpan… Well he was a western downs bushman and never a man to waste words – battered hat, distant gaze, sun-dried skin, permanent thin rolie on his lip – an independent and abrasive sort of knockabout bloke who’d worked around the tablelands and gidgee country longer than most anybody could remember.

  We’d had a bugger of a day out on the plains in the old truck, too. Hot as Hades it had been, not a breath of wind and bushflies thicker than swarming bees.

  Old Blue was asleep underneath the diesel tank. There was an oily patch on the ground where the fuel line connection dripped occasionally. He knew a thing or two about sandflies, did old Blue.

  So did Teddy. That’s why he never fixed it.

  We’d finished unloading the windmill crates and all the pipes and tank iron and stuff for the new bore at Heartbreak Yards the night before, and had spent half the morning driving around the edge of the downs country looking for a bullock to kill – as per the boss’ instructions. None of our stock was left in the big western paddock, so any cattle we saw there had to belong to one of our neighbours. And no one in their right mind would shoot their own beast; I mean it’s just not natural. But we only saw a couple of head. Wild buggers they were, too; running like bloody racehorses. Too far away for a decent shot.

  I’d told Teddy earlier that we wouldn’t do any good unless we made the truck a bit quieter, like putting the muffler back on and fixing the horn switch – you know, so the bloody thing didn’t keep shorting itself.

  Teddy didn’t seem too concerned, though. He just kept driving around with the exhaust barking and the horn blaring every time we hit a bump – which was almost constantly, given the black soil’s “crab-holes” and all the Mitchell grass tussocks. Then the driver’s side front tyre blew out and we stopped to change it … which is when we noticed the dog trailer was no longer coming along behind. Somewhere along the way it seems the drawbar had somehow come unhooked.

  The old girl’s got no rear view mirrors, see. They’re long gone. All that’s left are the broken brackets and Teddy uses them to hang waterbags on. They stay there, too – mostly, if the scrub isn’t too thick. Anyhow, after we’d got the jack working and changed the tyre, we turned the old bus around and started back-tracking – you know, to find where the trailer had parted company with us.

  “She’ll be right,” I said. “This is tableland country. It’ll be standing somewhere out on the flat waiting for us.”

  And that’s where we found it, more or less, but not so much on the flat as in the changeover country at the tableland’s edge; where the treeless downs become gidgee scrub and slope down gently to the vast gidgee covered plains of the State’s western borderlands. There’s more than thirty miles of changeover country in the big western paddock and from one end to the other the whole thing only has a single waterway of any consequence. Up on the downs it’s a broad shallow affair and for the most part is hardly recognisable as such. Not the last half kilometre of it though. There it’s eroded a cut down to the lower level of the gidgee plains. “Rustlers’ Gully” someone named it in the early days … for obvious reasons.

  Course after all the miles we’d meandered around looking for a beast to kill, guess where our stupid runaway trailer had come to park itself – along with half our bloody gear. I mean it’s obvious, isn’t it. …At least it was still on its wheels.

  I mean we could have left the thing back at Heartbreak, but that was easy to say after the event. It would also have meant having to go back for it.

  So Teddy reversed the truck up to where it went over and I went down to it for the chains. And we were lucky. Joined together the three of them were just long enough to connect the truck and trailer together, arse end to arse end. The truck had no trouble snigging the trailer back up the slope, of course, except that just as its rear wheels came up to the rocky part at the top the bloody chain broke.

  Down it went again, only this time it done the job properly – pole-vaulting its drawbar and jagging the dolly sideways on a boulder near the bottom and the whole bloody shit fight going arse over head … one wheel still going around and Blue barking his stupid bloody brains out.

  “Good thing you shifted the tucker and tools to the truck after we finished unloading,” I muttered as we stood on the edge looking down at the debacle. “…Like you said you would. Carrying it up from there would be a bugger of a job.”

  Old Teddy didn’t say anything. He just stood there glaring at me … with the coldest stare in the Known Universe. Just before my face started developing radiation burns he turned back to the trailer and began to roll himself a smoke.

  By the time we’d finished gathering up the tools and what we could salvage from the wrecked tuckerbox and had carried it all up to the truck we were both pretty buggered, so Teddy set about getting a fire going for smoko while I straightened up the mangled billycan as best I could and filled it to the first of the holes. This left it about quarter full, fortunately for us. Then, without telling me, he decided we might as well make a meal of it and have an early lunch while we were at it, so he went around to the front of the truck and pulled the engine’s fuel cut-off wire.

  This was something of a mistake, as it happened, but we didn’t know it at the time. We only found out after we’d finished eating, like when we tried to get the old girl started again. Apparently, sometime during our morning’s travels, the piece of number-ten wire holding the battery carrier had broken and the battery had fallen out.

  It must have dragged along by its cables, too, for a while, because there wasn’t much of it left. Not enough to start the engine, anyway – just the terminals and a bit of lead plate. —At least the connections were tight.

  At that point it became pretty obvious to us that the only way we were going to get the old wreck started again would be by rolling it into the gully. But it was now facing the wrong way, so after tying the steering wheel with a piece of rope we got the crowbar and started levering under the rear wheels.

  Course being one of the earlier models she weighed a bloody ton or two, so we could only manage a couple inches at a time. Each time we did we’d chock behind the wheel with a good sized rock, then try for a fresh bite with the bar – ad infinitum, more or less.

  All up it took us about three hours to turn the thing around, after which we boiled the billy again and had afternoon smoko. Course that was only half the job. We then had to lever the old wreck forward, up to the edge of the gully, which
took us a couple more hours. Finally though, with Teddy in the cab and me with the bar behind a rear wheel, I levered it the last few inches to where gravity took over.

  Off she went – slowly at first but quickly gathering speed as the front wheels dropped over the edge. Then suddenly trees were smashing and gears were crashing and all hell was breaking loose. I mean you should’ve bloody heard it! Teddy had dropped the clutch to try and start the engine but it had jumped out of gear, so rather than watch where the thing was going he’d focused his attention on getting
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