Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Award

There I was with the adjudicator (Erwin), cash in hand, on my knees when the curtain opened unexpectedly.
Not that I was to blame or that he was involved in a transaction of any kind, but try telling that to the other festival participants as they began to jeer and throw scrunched up programs at us. Really, there is a perfectly logical explanation for this if they would just calm down. I put the trophy to one side and turned to face my accusers. Hey, its a small town.
Before you lose interest thinking to yourself "what a tired old cliche" consider this: my wife's brother's son goes to school with Erwin's sisters niece - on her husband's side - and they are going on camp in the morning on the bus to the capital and my nephew - typical - forgot his wallet and called my sister who passed on the message to Linda, that's Erwin's mother with whom she plays bingo on fridays at the Palace on Moorabool St. Now when she rang Erwin, he was in the middle of the award ceremony where my play "Boxing Day" was receiving an award so he couldn't take the call. He did however pass me his phone and after getting the story I agreed to pass some cash to Erwin who would transfer a corresponding amount into  his sister's niece's account over his phone and she could give the cash to the boy at the bus in the morning. Got that? Only the niece wasn't so nice and wasn't speaking to said boy and no amount of persuasion would entice her to pass on the money. That's where things got interesting.
The niece's boyfriend plays footy with the brother of the boy's cousin who was on the other bus going to meet them in the capital, so they agreed via TXT to catch up with the boy at the lunchtime rest stop - where both busses were scheduled to meet up - and give their ATM card to the brother who would pass it to the cousin who would give it to the boy to use, in exchange for a bit of a bonus payment for their efforts.  By now I was running out of cash so I TXT to my sister who transferred more cash to the account of the brother of the boys cousin. Problem solved. Though I'm still going to have to recover the dough from that little piece or work my sisters niece.
The transaction was going smoothly until, lifting out the notes for the boy to reimburse Erwin, I dropped my wallet and the coins ran out over the stage behind the curtain. As I bent to collect them the award was announced and the curtain swung wide.
I'm just glad Ewrin managed to tuck his shirt back in so quickly... but that's another story!

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Now Sammy is in High School

Now Sammy is in high school
Some little things have changed
The sand replaced by wood-chips
While his need to feed remains

In scruffiness he breaks the rules
He's adverse to being neat
And contrasts his smile, disarming
With my war on smelly feet

With Sammy now in high school
I've become a tiresome nag
"Pick that up", "what's in your hair?"
His school bag makes me gag!

Seldom home when not at school
I know the brink of doom
By BMX or internet
It hangs around his room

Now Sammy is in high school
He keeps me on the run
Despite the grimy edges
The whole family has some fun

By fun I mean surviving
And so you see it clearly
We know every paramedic
And have learned to love them dearly

He still remains our Sammy
Through sand and smells and stitches  
And somehow he keeps coming home
To get kicked up the britches!
Love you Sam.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Grant - Short Story (500w)

Sitting with the trousers over my knee in the concrete cubicle, I could hear steps approaching.  I hurried.  Doors banged as the search came nearer, blending urgent echoes with shower sounds and the reek of scent blocks.  I panicked and a buckle clattered betrayal on the vitrified wall.
“Professor Kinton...are you in there?” her tone triggered a school boy memory.  “No Miss....I mean ... a-hem, yes, of course” I stutter, clearing the knot in my tongue.  “We’ll be with you in a moment.”  
My colleague and I fumbled frantically with our clothes while trying in vain to give each other space to move.  As with all public toilets, there was only one room with a door latch.  “It’s just that the presentation is starting and...” she began to say, when I cut her off.  “In a moment!  Thank you!” I retorted as my cheeks burned.  
It is inexplicable that we were not all over the newspapers the following day.  How the learned doctor and I found ourselves swapping trousers in the loos at the Beach House, seems to defy understanding.  It was all so logical at the time.
You see, when the shriek we had heard was followed by “Is there a doctor in the house?” my friend sighed and gathered up his hand luggage in a practised, travelled fashion. 
“Here!” he had announced, pressing his way through the throng of suits and glitterati at the edge of the pool.  The young woman apparently caught her stiletto in the terraced paving.  She had rendered herself unconscious as her hair extension, catching the end of a seat when she fell, swung her head against the fountain edge with considerable force.
The waiter, who salvaged her, on seeing the eyes roll back and mascara running down her unmoving face, was overcome and promptly fainted.  Marcus now in doctor mode, continued with the usual first aide procedures while an ambulance was called.  The diva, then lolling to one side and in a convulsion of relief disgorged her expensive entree all over his trouser leg. That was, as I recall, the start of the evening!  The awards were being presented on stage by this time but our leader, the good Dr Marcus Peal, was soiled terribly.  The only sensible thing was to swap pants.
Clasping my fading certificate, I continued the precarious climb back from the attic.  It had been such a memorable evening in 1985 that I eventually resigned my position at the institute and bought that bayside restaurant.  Colleagues so often asked me if I still had the inaugural grant notice that I resolved to find it.  The ladder wobbled under my chuckling frame as I revisited my life of fifteen years ago and thought of the wet, dishevelled girl who became my wife.
Whatever had possessed me to insist that the hospital give me her address and to have dragged poor Marcus along to accompany me on the pretence of a ‘follow up’ call to her home still puzzles me.  That is however, the story of ‘the mismatched suit’ photograph and how the diva dirtied the doc.  
“So son, What do you think of that?  Your old man isn’t such a loony after all, is he?”

Potential - Short Story (250w)

Eleven o'clock and the executives file into the boardroom. Sweat is galloping in herds around me as the winch raises my platform above the sill and I feel the heat of the window glass and their eyes upon me. I pretended not to notice them.  Every week the seventh floor becomes their private box with my window as the main event.
Federal police are watching someone at the A.I.S who is suspected of distributing drugs.  The new super steroid is infused into soft drinks to avoid detection.  "Pose as a window cleaner" they said, "to observe the suspects".  I went along with it, thinking how tacky the concept seemed and now here I am, on surveillance, with a room full of them watching me watch them. 
Their numbers grow each week.  Now there are eight of these women staring at me.  It’s hot. I take off my shirt.  It's weird being seen like this.  I don't think I'm particularly handsome but gym is paying off as my stomach flattens out.  My partner noticed the change too and our sex life has improved.  
Oh. Oh, here comes the red headed one.  She hands me a diet Coke. It feels great as I smear the icy can across my forehead.   I gulp thirstily then feel goose bumps rise, as I become conscious of their intense scrutiny.  I smile back at them and turn away.  This job could have interesting potential if I wasn't gay.

Last Rite - Short Story

When the tests begin, I can ignore the persistent rashes and even the angry welts that appear in place of bruises.  I can say to myself, "its just a reaction to the antibiotics", until my rattling cough keeps me awake at night and makes me so weak, it gets hard to keep a glass of water from slipping through my hand.  At least I can still shave.
Shaving away my stubble always gives me a sense of masculine satisfaction; and I now understand the fascination that advertisers have with this, most male of rituals.  
A man's shaving technique is a rite of passage.  The handing down of the family stroke (from left to right, or right to left, whether to go with the grain or against) is a sacred trust between generations.  After all, man's status in this testosterone-laden culture may be determined by these subtleties.  I happen to know that Princeton graduates all shave from left to right across the face, working with the lay of hair!
It is true that women also have a most obsessive focus on facial hair, though I am certain it derives from an entirely different motivation, often involving a much-discussed masochism as the offending growth is uprooted from its follicle by diverse means.  For a girl arriving at the portal of puberty, for example, the appearance of facial hair is a disaster.  For a boy however, it means the awakening of the giant within.  
As I was growing up, every boy's dream was to be a muscular six feet and something inches tall, have an abundance of hair in all the right places and to be able to grow a full beard in under ten days…that and owning the latest motocross bike.  Now, triumphs include keeping the gaunt stranger in the mirror in focus, so that the razor does not bite too deep, and being able to keep the blotches on my face from showing through the expensive make up.  Do you see?  Even in preparing for the inevitable, we lie to ourselves.  I have never understood how to face the truth without fear.  To quote Oscar Wilde: "Truth is rarely pure and never simple."
It is the simple things, which I miss the most.  Waking up with the sun, instead of to another white coat framed face.  I miss the feel of the kitchen tiles on warm feet and your hands slipping round my waist as I make the coffee.  I miss the silken glide of the swivel head 'with moisture strip' as I shave the second time, the way my father taught me.  
The fact that you are watching this, is proof of the fallibility of modern science, and testimony that the brain does house the soul; at least until the kemo begins!
All my possessions I leave to my wife, with the exception of my collection of garden magazines, which go to my sister and her four children.  To her husband, I leave my potted raspberry bush, so he may have an eternal supply and those who loved me may save their breath.

Growing Pains - Short Story (2500w)

1. The tree is still growing and with every new branch we are closer to the end.  When it flowers we will be the first to know.  My nightmares are full of bodies falling down to feed its hungry roots.  
For a time it was a tourist attraction.  We all made money from the wide-eyed strangers pouring from jumbos and overloaded busses.  When it grew big enough in six months to begin toppling nearby houses with its roots, there were rumours about the mile high branches blocking TV reception and interfering with radio waves at the airport.  We couldn’t believe our pot of gold could be a threat.  
Later that year the tourism committee and the town council decided to petition the state government for the town to be moved.  The flowing roots that climbed and engulfed every solid object they met had already swallowed up several blocks of houses.  George and I were at the tree every day.  I wrote what happened in my notebook at first, but soon bought a proper journal.  Doctor Beverley, the botanist who arrived ten weeks after the tree began to grow, showed me how to record facts and observations properly.
Bill Wallis, the crop-dusting pilot bought a six-seater plane, and visitors paid top dollar for a trip around the crest of the three-mile wide tree.  George and I went up on a tour once, as representatives of the committee, and I was sure I spotted a shadowy creature flowing between boughs. It stayed at the edge of my sight for a minute or so then was gone. Bill said it must have been low cloud, but the icy vision left in my mind had nothing to do with altitude.
George was the first to notice the change, as the glistening leaves began falling, each a beautiful saucer-sized disk of rainbow colours.  We collected them for sale.  That’s when the fun began.  It was weeks before others realised what was happening, but by then we could all feel the roots of fear creeping into our lives.

2. Ting Lao Choi is not the first guardian of the tree spirit, with its secret portal to the other world.  Many times in the past souls have attempted to venture beyond the tree crossing into the unknown.  It has been said that it is a world of beings so dense, that not even leaves of the great tree could pass through; a land of who had drawn souls from this side through the portal, entrapping them in solid pain.  
It is said they feed on a soul’s life force so thoroughly that it could never be reincarnated.  Others like father Choi, believed the other world to be a heaven, the true Gondoro, where we shall meet the Budda and complete enlightenment.  
Since childhood, Ting had questioned her teachers about the role she would play in tending the great tree, to keep the gate closed and the world free from harm.  Now that she had lived 100 seasons and was no longer an infant, her day had come.  Her training had been strenuous but she was confident in her abilities.
The lesson of total vigilance was the most difficult, and she cheated once, magically acquiring the promotion to second apprentice.  There were threads of ether to be interpreted, more than two thousand demon forms to be memorised and their counter-measures to be learned.  She meant to confess her deception, but as time went on, the training intensified. The incident slipped past her mind into the great pool of karma beyond conscious thought, and was gone.
As a guardian of the tree spirit her responsibility was to protect it and administer nourishment that endowed it with power to keep the portal between worlds closed. Ting sensed a great disease within the spirit.  Change was coming. The elders refused to believe reports of a great warming within the tree.  It was prophesied that some day the door into heaven would open, but none expected it to be in this lifetime.  
Ting was proud of her position and enjoyed the silk robes of office.  It was an honour to be a guardian, for few could perform the duties required of a devotee of the great tree.  Life, however, was not all duty and sometimes Ting would focus he mind to travel the astral plane for family visits.  This day, she had left her station for only a moment, when a demon appeared, pouring the contents of an ornate flask onto the roots of the tree, which began to grow with supernatural speed.  As its trunk broadened, an interlocking pattern of symbols grew in the form of a portal, from which emanated an ominous glow.  It was only later, when the leaves began to fall, that she began to fear for the life of her people.  The demon attacked.
3. It was a Thursday when the army arrived.  George nudged me awake with his elbow.  With a rumble you could feel, the trucks and tanks rolled past our little demountable house.  I slid from the bed into a warm gown and reaching the front door, saw Elisa Moreton standing in her doorway across the street, milk bottle in hand, mouth open. I asked George what was happening, as he came up behind me.  Along the row of weathered fibro cottages an odd glow was building.  I turned, stepping onto the porch to look over the roofs toward the tree. My breath stopped. Our tree was burning.  Sheets of red, orange, black and green soared upward into the low winter sky.
Rushing back into the bedroom I threw on the first clothes I could find then had to change because the slacks I’d put on were blue and I mustn’t have anyone think I am dowdy.  George was backing the car out as I reached the front gate. I fumbled with the key to the security screen.  Damn thing never did work properly.  “Come on dear!” called George, revving the engine.  I clattered down the gravel path and yanked the door open, throwing my bag in ahead of me.  The gold-chrome clasp with matching strap hit George right in the ear. As I tumbled onto the saggy vinyl bench seat, he punched the pedal to the floor and we burst out onto the road.
Dodging people who ran crowding toward the spectacle, we skidded to a halt beside a big kaki truck.  A dozen committee members were already there so we pushed through to join them outside the tourist information booth.  I wondered how so many soldiers could arrive so fast.  The air was filled with smoke and ash, and the mayor was shouting at a hard-faced military type with three shiny stars on each shoulder.  Outside, fire shot from fat, dragon-like tankers, in liquid streams toward the tree.
I was angry.  How dare they take away our dreams with cannons and black, white and tan soldiers?  I was winding up to give the officer a barrage of my own, when a new noise burst into the chaos, sending onlookers into a new frenzy of action.

4. In the green half-dark, Ting Lao tumbled away in a turmoil of silk like pounding surf as the demon hurled javelins of energy toward her.  Her complacency had endangered the tree.  She and the book of sutras bound against her breast were all that stood between her world and the crimson abyss glowing behind her. Ting began tearing at her outer robes, reaching for the weapon within, unconscious of harm her scything fingers did to the paper beneath. 
A single page of writing freed itself and began the descent to her feet.  She watched it fall. Her hands twisted forward, shooting the silk of her sleeve ahead to block its path and shield the powerful text from the demon’s sight.  As Ting evaded the incoming spears, she saw too late, their ultimate destination and they struck the forming portal with tremendous force, exploding into floods of brilliant orange.
Ting retrieved the page, exposing it toward the evil being as she intoned a prayer.  There is goodness in all, and evil can only survive in ignorance. Seeing its true self reflected in the holy text, the ghost conjoined with its innocent soul and transcended in peace.
Ting was pleased that the soul could now continue its life quest.  It was no longer held in the thrall of the demon master, but more urgent matters required attention.  A wind began to blow towards the portal carrying with it great loads of substance.  Homes, decorative pavilions and ships of the ether were dashed to powder, as the maw of the otherworld consumed them.  Guardian Ting Lao wept.

5. The hard shooshing of flamethrowers had been replaced by a series of harsh pops.  The crowd of spectators was in a running panic, yelling as they rushed toward their cars.  Many fell and were trampled. The noise reached a crescendo.
The general woofed a string of commands to his assistants, and gas masks were passed around.  A neat young man helped me with the straps of my mask, then bustled us out of the shelter to a van parked at the side of the building.  Before stepping up into the vehicle I caught a glimpse of the tree.
A charcoal patch had been burned on the trunk, and from the crackling bark great clouds of noxious looking powdery orange dust were spurting in popping puffs.  I associated it with sneezing; it was as if our puny efforts had irritated the giant and made it sneeze.
The orange dust, which fell like Doctor Zeuss snow, burned into everything it touched, causing hair and nylon shirts to shrivel up and then dissolve completely.  Murky sap began flowing from the fissures in the tree trunk, washing downward to eat car tyres and alloy wheels, like sugar in a pancake batter.
It was time to leave, and the van jostled through crowds and barged its way through cars trying to flee the awesome scene.  We raced toward the airport, and were escorted through barriers to where a line of green planes sat, waiting for us. With soldiers, a few town dignitaries and hundreds of people in white lab coats, we were ushered up ramps into the belly of the aircraft.
After waiting in these sweaty confines for twenty minutes, the trapdoor was closed and the lumbering craft made taxied down the runway.  We were airborne.  The flight lasted for hours and I woke after an uncomfortable doze against George’s shoulder. I hate flying.
The descent began. I ruined my good hanky wiping wetness from the window to see where we were landing and to our amazement, there stood a space shuttle strapped to it’s rocket and fuming impatiently amid scores of technicians. In the distance the sky was orange through a towering forest of green.

6. In that moment the future of her world shifted as another piece of the arcane door shattered into fragments, exploding into the vacuum of the other world.  Ting had failed.  The future of her village and her existence now rested in the hands of Budda. The realisation frightened her.  
The teachings had always affirmed change as good, and though she knew all things must grow, Ting could not understand how the death of her world could bring enlightenment.  She saw the green of her world sucked out the aperture into a vast blue of beyond.  She could only watch as the hideous solid beings burned all that passed through.  Even the demon masters were engulfed dispassionately.  Only the spores of the great tree went unharmed, until their dragons ran out of fire and the masters fled into the darkness above.
Those they left behind were mad.  They locked themselves away inside walled places until the mighty trees consumed them.  Some of Ting’s people tried to go to their aid, but they were feared that more than death, so watchers were set to protect the poor creatures and chant for their souls.  
Eventually their screaming ended. The newcomers began to make the best they could of the New World.  Gone were the soft skies and textured dome of their homeland.  In its place, a harsh spectrum of rays from a huge orb hung over the land. In time, the great trees spread over the land recreating what had been lost, and in the way of all life, balance was restored.  Ting Lao learned of other great trees and of the thousand portals opening across the world.
Ting often wondered what had become of the odd beings that fled into the upper reaches.  Were they still out there?  Were they souls like her own people or phantasms conjured by the masters of evil in their final hour?  Ting did not have the answers.  So much about this place was strange and yet it was beautiful in a way she would not have thought possible.  She felt grief for the past and thrilled at the prospect of undiscovered future. She had learned much. Here she would reach maturity. In retrospect, it was the best thing that ever happened to her.
7. Now it seems more like a bizarre dream than a memory, looking out of the space station window at the green and orange world below us.  I’m told we were designated as survivors, because of our detailed knowledge of the tree and its growth stages.  Using the vast array of television cameras that were set up before the exodus, we can see the tree and its seedlings spreading across the horizon of our old home.  By telescope we can see their crowns poking up into the stratosphere. Will they stop there?  
None of the scientists can explain what happened.  Beverley whispers about biological warfare, and a soldier I met says it was God wiping sin from the earth.  I remember the tree ghost and ponder privately.  The biologists have found a coating of spores clinging to the outer hull of our sanctuary in space, and there are plans to move us further out, perhaps begin the trip to Mars a few years early.
George has become quite the scientist during the twelve months since we arrived in such a fuss with not a thing to wear; not that fashion is an issue here.  Everyone wears a jump suit in company colours with ‘Sony Corporation’ emblazoned across the back.
There’s no competition.  No beauty routines required.  The few hours each day when the centrifugal gravity is turned off takes care of sagging skin.  I love it.  Space flight would have been developed a lot sooner if women had been told about the benefits of zero gravity. 
I dream about those poor souls who were left behind, but in retrospect, it was the best thing that ever happened to us.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Heaven is on the Road

Heaven is on the road between Drysdale and Geelong,
Stretched luxuriously between divided roads.
On cruise control - the drivers auto- pilot
Layed back in bucket seated bliss until
Those bloody lights at Point Henry. Screech to a halt.
But til then,
The radio harps out my daydream webs
While my mind drifts on Goodyear waves and their subtle songs,
Flying through love pangs and unrequited hopes
To the city of azure and gold…
If it wasn't for that damn hill at Leopold
Where the cruise control gives out,
I nurse the poor old Mazda over the crest changing down the gears to the sexy sigh of carburettor as cruise reasserts it's self down the slope. 
There is still time to ruminate,
Enjoy the simple pleasures of the open road,
Breath in the sweet bay air tainted by salt and cow hair'
The warm friendly equine and the worshipful bowing sunflower…
The acrid gastric stench of bay weed of low tide 
Mire ponds at Alcoa and CSIRO's
Wet land joys.
Heaven is on the road from Drysdale to Geelong,
Somewhere between Leopold and Point Henry
Where time stands still
And God dwells in the flashing guide posts
Between blue-green haze, road peace and cruise control.
© Justyn Rowe 9 Mar 1999

Taking the farm out of the boy - A monologue

Some days are like Chinese take-away, full of sweet crap. The problem is, it tastes so good you can’t stop eating.

‘What do you think, the red tie, or the yellow? Mmm.’
They’re so nice to you, those bank managers. When you are borrowing money its ‘No problem, we’ll take care of all the details, just like in the eighties, just sign here, and here and here’; they lend you the world when the interest rate is high enough. Its nice being called MR and SIR, until they have your signature and then its ‘goodbye, see you on the street, sucker!’ Worse than used car salesmen they are, after a morning of sucking up to you its ‘will that be cash or credit sir?’ and then they’re a stranger again.

‘Hey you, get off that box!’
Its the last of the good ones that box. It will be good for enlarging the living room. It has those double thick sides for packing books. It used to be full of books, leather- bound ones that were my grandfather’s, but I sold...
Its fun signing up for millions of dollars; even more fun writing the cheques; Ten thousand for this builder, and a hundred thousand for that, till the pen runs out and you excuse yourself smugly, knowing you’ve got more than they do. If only those lousy buggers who scoffed at me in school could see me now. Well no, not now, but then!... Oh hell it was good while it lasted.

‘Oi! I said leave it, now piss off yer little bastard!’ ‘Damn mud, I’ll have to get these shoes done before the court hearing. Where did I put that Vinny’s voucher?’
I have the nicest box house on the block; three beds, lounge, kitchen, and this huge outdoor space. That roof there has three layers of insulation, three! Not your everyday cardboard either, that’s the good stuff. That’s the stuff we used for flat packing our export things. See the size of those sheets with the...
Well, anyway, it keeps the rain out. The neighbours all come over here when it really pours, and the bridge keeps the worst of it off anyway.

‘Oh, look, I’m sorry, I haven’t even offered you a cuppa tea. How do you have it? Have a seat, I’ll just lift those folders off, here, okay.’
Bugger, I’m out of sugar. Don’t have many visitors now-a-days. That couch you’re on was from the farm, remember? Its nice. ‘In the family’ a hundred and fifty years. Its mum’s favourite... it was. They couldn’t take it away with the other stuff , when she proved it was hers and refused to get off it... sold the rest to pay the legals.

Look, ahh, I’m sorry, um, I have to be in court in an hour. Finish the tea, and I’ll see you next time you come down eh? When you go, just pull that bit of tin across the door so the dog can’t get out, alright? Nice to see you sis.

© Justyn W H Rowe 1999

Friday, August 13, 2010

Now Sammy has a Sandpit

Now Sammy has a sandpit
I’ve become a weary crab
I live in sand a metre deep
In house and car and yard
Our lounge is now a shifting dune
The hall a desert plain
My computer desk a dust bowl
Where the grit of play remains
Now Sammy has a sandpit
My clothes are dangerous things
My socks cause chaffing rashes
My shoes hide stuff that stings
The building of sand castles 
Fills the guineapig with dread
He knows the latest tunnel
Will be tested on his head
Manners at the table
Are as rare as Van Gough pictures
Instead we’re mostly tasting his
Especially sandy sandwiches
Now Sammy has a sandpit
Not everything is doom
Bubblegum and mud won’t stick
To the floor in his room
I’m going into business
Selling vacuum cleaner liners
To all despairing parents
Of four year old sand miners
And so a word of caution
If your Christmas list includes
Anything with sand in it
For God’s sake, buy the kid a bike!

A Gum Tree Story

Down on the rock the two friends were talking.  Hows about we go ridin' today boy?
Said Andrew to James…
And the two were off to fetch their horses.  Andrew was a brilliant rider and could go anywhere at all with ease.  When he rode with the other stockmen, some said God hadn't made a horse that could throw him.
James could ride pretty well too for his ten years of age.  It was a proud tradition in his family.  He would often go mustering with his uncles in the rough country to the south and west of the homestead.  His faithful pony was a brown and white paint horse named Apache who was quite clever and sometimes did not want to be caught.  He would toss his nose in the air, hold his tail high and canter off up the hill above the yards, always just a little faster than James could run.  What a great game he would play. 
Andrew knew a thing or two about horses and he would stand while James ran around like a mad thing tiring him-self out.  Then Andrew would pluck some sweet long native grass from across the boundary and stand waving it upwind.  Sure enough old Apache would smell the tasty treat and walk meekly back to be caught.  Andrew always rode his mare Topsy, a shaggy old stock horse he had rescued from a flood one year…but that’s another story.
A days ride took a good deal of preparation and the two friends had learned enough about the bush to know you must think ahead.  First of all, the horses would be carefully washed and groomed, paying special attention to any place the saddle might rub or chaff.  Then the hooves cleaned and checked for stones, cuts or bruising.  Out on the trail your life could depend on how well you cared for your horse.  Besides, the animals could always tell who loved them by the way they were handled.  One of dad's favourite stories was of a faithful stock horse that had galloped himself to death to save the life of his loving master.
After saddling, James fastened swags to the back of their saddles. A whip and canteen tied to the front and then he made final adjustments to Apache's girth while Andrew gave the ponies a last drink for the road.
Off they went!  Past the stockyards, then the cornfields and down the slope to the shallow ford across the river.
The horses were getting excited now and they splashed enthusiastically. Up the far bank at a canter and onto the big flat.  This was always their favourite spot for a good gallop.  The nice clean paddocks with no fences for ages.  There were even a few logs and a narrow gully to jump.  Faster and faster they raced, only slowing down just before the old wooden gate to the coach road.
James brought his horse up close and slid the catch with his foot allowing the gate to swing upon.  That part was easy.  Next he had to back his horse through while holding the gate in one hand to close it after Andrew.  Then it was off into the forest.
The day was sparkling, the sun was shining with only a few clouds scattered in the crystalline sky as Topsey and Apache trotted into the dappled coolness of the forest edge.  The distinctive smell of the bush was all around them.  Molasses grass and Lantana, wet leaves and moist earth.  Here and there as they rode along, they caught the sounds of small animals foraging in the underbrush and once they heard a deer bounding away from them through the thickening scrub.
Quite soon they found themselves enclosed by the rainforest and they began looking for telltale signs of something to eat for lunch.  Here in the forest, they were surrounded by tasty treats, if only one knows where to look for them.  Andrew's people were masters at finding a good meal.
Coming to a spot where an old tree had fallen clearing a large space, James and Andrew dismounted and found a branch to hitch their horses.  James remembered what his father had said and made sure not to tie his horse to too strong a branch.  This was so that if you were away too long, perhaps having injured yourself your horse could pull away and wander home.  Of course, an animal arriving home with no rider would cause quite a stir, and everyone would be out looking for you.
Andrew found a large Blackboy tree and with clever strokes of his knife, dug out the base of the tall stem growing from its centre.  This tasted like celery and was filling like a potato.  James spent his time hunting for roseapples and water cherries, which are small pink and white berries that grow on large trees in the forest gullies.
You had to be very careful of what you collected to eat.  Many things that looked good could be quite poisonous, like the shiny bright red berries of one particular bush.  Eating those makes you very sick indeed and you would have to spend days and days running to the dunny!
By the time they sat down together, there was quite a collection in Andrew's hat.  There were berries, booyum, pieces of blackboy stem, roseapples and two, -foot long sections of water vine with its tart, sappy cordial inside.
The only thing James wasn't particularly fond of were the fat white 'booyum', or witchetty grubs Andrew liked.  They did taste a bit like peanut butter, but after pulling off their heads and squeezing out their innards, he didn't feel much like munching on what was left.  Andrew thought James foolish and consumed the things whole.
Then it was up on horseback again for a game of hide 'n tag.
There were lots of trails crisscrossing through the thick trees, overhanging vines and large leafy shrubs had to be dodged as the boys trotted wildly around each other.  They shrieked with laughter and many times came close to falling off as the ponies raced down gullies and up steep banks to avoid being caught.
The day was going great and James managed to slip away without being caught.  He rode on and on until the sound of Topsey's hoofs were left far behind.  Finally, he slowed to a walk and began looking around him.  He listened carefully for any signs that he had been followed, but all was quiet.  It was ages since he had won this game and finally he would have the battered tin cup, which was their trophy back on his bedroom dresser.  After a few minutes to revel in his victory, James began listening to the forest song around him.  He had been so determined to out smart his friend that he had lost track of where he was.  He called out at the top of his voice "A-A-Andrew!".  He listened carefully for a reply.  Not a sound.  Thinking Andrew might be playing tricks on him he called again, "A-A-A-Andrew?"  Nothing.  "Coo-o-o-wee!"  Still nothing.  James began to get a bit nervous.  He knew that no one would ever ignore a coowee.  It was one of the rules of the bush that you always answered, in case someone needed help.
Dismounting, he remembered what his father said about this kind of situation.  First of all, don't panic.  Walk up the nearest mounting ridge as high as you can.  Then find a very tall tree and climb up so you can see over the land and get an idea of your direction and to allow your voice to carry even further if you call out.
James tried to stay as calm as he could as he began the long hike up the slope.  Apache was not being very helpful.  He did not approve of pushing through the close growing saplings and vines; even through as they ascended the forest gradually thinned and tasty ferns for him to snatch on the way past began to appear.  The going was tough, as the ridge became steeper and steeper.  This was hot sweaty work now that the late afternoon sun was shining down on them through the canopy above.  James saw an enormous old gum tree just ahead and as they stopped at last to catch their breath, Apache gave a splutter, a snort, and a deep sigh of approval.
There was still no sign of Andrew or Topsey and as James looked around, he began to wonder how to scale the gum.  He has an idea.  Undoing the buckle at the centre of his reigns, he edged his pony close against the tree, below its lowest branch.  Because the tree was too big to reach around, he stretched one reign as far around as he could and secured the end with his pocket knife.  Taking the other end, he went around the other side of the tree and rejoined them by the buckle.
None of this made the pony very happy, but he stood there obediently, lashed tightly against the tree.  All this was so James could stand on the saddle to begin his climb.  Poor old Apache!
Up he climbed, higher and higher into the canopy of the big gum, his riding boots slipping dangerously on the smooth grey bark.  James could see the river valley stretched out in the distance.  On this beautiful clear day there was nothing prettier.
Arriving about half way up the tree, he discovered to his delight, an enormous hole in the trunk.  This happened often in big storms.  Large pieces of the tree would break away leaving the heart wood exposed to fill with water and be eaten by ants and grubs and small creatures who help it along by burrowing into the softened timber. Eventually, the whole tree could become hollow, like a pipe, where birds and animals could nest, or bees could swarm, leaving their tasty treasure for a clever hunter to find.  James and his friends would find pigeons nesting in places like this.  He determined to check it out more closely on his way down.
As he began to climb again, he noticed that the sun had begun to set and pass down over the hills behind him.  He had to climb fast.  If darkness fell before he got down again, he might not be able to find a safe place for he and Apache to sleep.
Finally he reached the crown of the tree.  Wow! What a view! He could see all the way back to the homestead.  He could see herds of cattle moving slowly away from their holding pens.  He could see the small branding fires like little orange stars against the growing shadows of the home paddock.  He knew just the right way to go now to get home, and when he got down…Oh dear!  The real stars were coming out now and the breeze was picking up, making his footing in the fork of a thin branch a lot shakier. 
The dew had begun to form on the smooth bark as he began to work his way ever so carefully towards the ground.  Then all of a sudden, the smooth soles of his riding boots began to slide.  He grasped desperately at leaves and branches as they began to fly past.  Heels skidding. Whoosh of cold air.  He could feel his heart beating in the back of his mouth.  He yelled, Ahhhhh! As he fell down and down. Branches crashed into his ribs.  Then all went dark as he rocketed down the gaping hole in the centre of the tree trunk!  
Sleeves tore as the rough eaten sides scratched down his arms and legs.  His bottom got a pounding to as he rattled from side to side down into the belly of this huge old gum.  Then CRUNCH!  He came to a stop.
A sharp pain shot up his left leg to the knee.  His ankle felt as though it was on fire and it throbbed to the fast beating of his heart.  He called out in terror and pain, but of course there was no one to hear.
Slowly James calmed down and began to survey the damage.  He was sure his ankle must be broken.  He couldn't quite reach it to give it a rub because the hole he was in narrowed at the bottom, so his head bumped the side when he tried.  He could feel a sticky wetness a tear in his trouser leg, which could be blood. Another thing he noticed, was the heat.  All day long the sun had beaten down on the tree trunk.  Inside was moist and hot, like the bathroom with a tub full of hot water and all the windows closed.  He had begun to sweat from the tough climb and the fright of his fall.  As he sweated the salty drops ran down his arms and legs to find every scratch and cut he had. Ooh it stung! He tried to dab carefully at them as best he could with some pieces torn from his shirt.  
Mum was going to kill him if he got out of this alive.  She had only just made his new work shirt from cloth she bought from the Indian hawker when he came with his camels for his yearly visit two weeks ago. 
There was still some sawdust falling from above and with it a million small ants.  They were all certain he wasn't meant to be there and told him so with their bites.  Now James was a tough lad and had been in some fairly tricky spots before, but nothing like this. As he realised how utterly alone he was, the lump in his throat tightened and big warm tears began to trickle silently down his dusty face.
What would his father do? He was a man who always seemed to have an answer to any problem.  Then he remembered a piece of advise he hadn't understood till now…"If ever you find yourself in a really tight spot and you don't know what to do…" - he remembered his father saying - "…sleep on it!"  WHAT? You have got to be kidding!  Sleep on it? Wit his ankle pounding and his arms stinging and the ants biting and no hope of escape and….he sank down as low as he was able and began to cry in earnest.  What could possibly save him now?
Isn't it amazing how our bodies know what we need, even when our brain has stopped figuring things out for us!  Some time, while his tears fell, James slipped off into dreamland. A deep exhausted sleep, which flew him away from his pain and sorrows as he dreamed of soaring above those big trees like an eagle.  He dreamed of a scratching sound his wings made as he skimmed the treetops.  A scratchy harsh sound that made it hard for him to move his wings and he began to fall!  Down and down into a cold blackness.  Whirling around and around to land with a jolt! He opened his eyes.
For a moment he didn't know where he was and he almost cried out.  Then he knew.
It was cold. The sky he could see above him was turning from black to grey.  He was shivering. He felt as stiff as an old dried out boot and as he tried to shift his weight to ease the pins and needles in his toes, a sharp pain shot fiery bolts up his legs.
Then he heard it.
The scratching sound from his dream.
Not wings but the sound of large claws on the outside of the tree!  Something large and heavy was climbing the trunk towards the hole where he lay frozen.  James had seen goannas hundreds of times. He had hunted them with Andrew and even eaten their stringy meat roasted over a Gubbi Gubbi fire. He knew they were as dangerous as any animal that could be found in the Australian bush.  All the stories of strange diseases people got after a goanna bite and the horrid tales of the ugly monsters carrying babies away tumbled on a wind of fear through his head. 
The goanna was big.  James could tell by the distance between the scratchings that this old one was at least seven feet long!  Its legs would be as thick as his thigh and its mouth big enough to swallow a cattle dog.  As he listened he could hear it getting higher and higher, till finally he saw it's massive snake-like head appear over the rim of the hole above him.   Then he realised his predicament.  The goanna had been out hunting over night and was now returning home to its eggs in the tree.  Guess who was visiting!  
James could hear the monsters hissing as it flicked it long tongue out to taste the air.  It paused at the rim and them began to scrabble inside the hole.  James was really frightened. He huddled down as far as he could and held his breath as he felt sawdust fall from above. The thing was getting closer now and he could smell the rotten breath of the carrion eater as it lumbered down towards him in the half dark! James closed his eyes to shut out the terror, and as he did so he remembered how his dad had told him about reversing a charging bull! 
As the huge goanna reached him, it opened its foul maw in a mighty hiss.  James suddenly reached back with his best arm and then swung upward with all his might, punching into the wide-open mouth.  He reached right in deep as the creature hurtled toward him.  Grabbing the goanna's tail bone, he gave a mighty heave and pulled it right inside out. The monster exploded up and out of the tree, dragging the victorious James with it!
He never saw that goanna again.  Some of the locals say they have seen an odd slimy thing thrashing around in billabongs, trying to swallow its own tail.  Others tell of the stories of a goanna with no skin, but James only smiles his little smile.  He and I know the truth.
And now, so do you!