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UNDER THE HARVEST MOON 

UNDER THE HARVEST MOON

A shadowy form moved in a crouch along the creek bank, a stout club upraised and silhouetted against the sparkling surface of the stream. It approached the forms of the man and the woman as they lay quietly on the rug in the moonlight near the water’s edge. The woman’s head rested on the man’s chest as he lay on his back, as if in a deep sleep. The blows from the club came quickly and viciously, crushing the flesh and bone of the man’s head and face, and then the blows fell about the woman’s head. She did not stir as her head exploded like a ripe melon. She fell sideways away from the man under the force of the attack, her matted hair gleaming wetly in the moonlight.
The stillness of the night was broken by the eerie sounds of the bush; the lazy honking of the wild ducks, the croaking of the frogs and the mopokes, and the laboured breathing of the attacker.
The figure tossed the club into the creek before splashing into the water and swimming strongly to the far side. Then it left the stream and moved briskly along the opposite bank, heading north towards the bush track that passed by Brinkley’s cottage …

In Store Price: $AU23.00 
Online Price:   $AU22.00

ISBN: 1 920699 77 5
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 250
Genre: Fiction
 


Author: Gary Blinco 
Imprint: Poseidon
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: August 2003
Language: English

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In this his third novel, Gary Blinco paints a graphic picture of country life as family conflict, romance and murder unfold on the Darling Downs in a time of challenge and change during the first bulk wheat harvest in 1957. This book provides an entertaining read and works on three levels: as history, romance and mystery, all in a competent way.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Gary Blinco grew up in the bush on the Darling Downs in Queensland during the fifties and early sixties. His large family existed in poverty stricken and primitive circumstances in those days, and the author credits his harsh beginnings with his insight into landscapes and the human condition. He is also a Vietnam Veteran, having completed two tours of duty as an infantry soldier after being conscripted during the National Service era of the late sixties and early seventies.  

     His first two books, ‘Down a Country Lane’ and ‘The Wounds of War’ are largely about soldiering during the Vietnam War. But his writing also deals in sensitive terms with personal relationships, including conflict on and off the battlefield, and romance, which provides a refreshing contrast against the harshness of military combat. In this sense the books offer more than just a blood and guts war story. 

Blinco has four more books now in an advanced stage of development and these are planned for release during the next two years. ‘Under the Harvest Moon’, is a romantic murder-mystery novel set against the backdrop of the first bulk wheat harvest on the Darling Downs in 1957. The book provides an entertaining journey across a spectrum of history, mystery and romance during a time of rapid change. 

‘Brennan’, is the first of two books on ‘The Mystical Swagman’. The books follow the experiences of an orphan boy of mysterious origins who develops mystical powers while tramping the wallaby track with two old swagmen. The books give an insight into the bush and early colonial Australia. 

‘A Place in Time’ is a novel about Australia being invaded by another country, somewhere in the near future. The lead character is Ian Lane, a middle-aged business executive who decides to retire early and concentrate on his writing career while taking his wife and child on a caravanning trip around Australia. They are camped by an isolated waterhole in the remote central northern outback when the invasion begins. An alliance of countries to Australia’s north strikes swiftly from within and without, bringing the nation to its knees in a matter of hours. The defence forces are crippled, highways are closed, communication systems are taken down or closely monitored, curfews are imposed and all aircraft are grounded. Australia’s allies sit back and take a wait-and-see position. 

Ian is a Vietnam Veteran and he longs to take some action to help save his country as he watches helplessly while great convoys of invading troops swarm down the central highway. Then by chance or destiny he finds a fissure through a wall of desert rock that takes him 252 years into the future. There he finds an ally and access to technology that will help him in his quest to serve his country; and he gains a glimpse at the future that gives him hope for the present. He also finds a new but impossible relationship that inspires and confuses at the same time.  

While these later works are a departure from the author’s usual genre, they are still set in the Australian bush environment that the author knows so well. Again, the books capture the wonders of the Australian bush. 

Gary works in sales and marketing in the financial services industry and lives on the Central Coast of New South Wales.

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CHAPTER ONE

  

The rising sun shared the heavens with a pale full moon that still hung low in the western sky as dawn claimed the land, and, for a short interlude, the world hung uncertainly between night and day. Lennie Symons drove slowly along the narrow country lane in his battered old ex-army jeep, taking frequent backward glances to ensure that the driver of the harvester was still following his lead.

It had been a dry night. The usual heavy dew had not appeared to moisten the crop and delay the harvest, and Lennie knew the plant would be able to commence working as soon as they reached the paddock of ripe wheat. Lennie was a fourth generation Symons, a descendent of a proud family of pioneers who had carved thriving sheep and cattle farms from the once raw bushland on the Darling Downs in south-east Queensland.

The clan now focused on grain growing, the younger generation having decided that cereal crops provided a higher return for less effort. They had endured some setbacks from poor seasons, due to droughts or floods, but now the years of land clearing and struggle were being rewarded. The harvest of 1957 was well under way, and it looked like being a record crop, the first really successful season since the change from livestock to grain.

Lennie had been sent to university to study agriculture, and his father was disappointed at the time when he switched courses after six months, finally majoring in literature and fine arts. But the disappointment was short lived when, after graduation, Lennie returned to the farm and displayed a talent for lateral thinking and planning. He now worked on the huge property as an administrator, studying and coordinating crop rotation techniques, and planning a genetically sound breeding program for the farm’s remaining cattle and sheep.

His academic musings and meticulous systems did not sit too well with his four brothers. They felt that Lennie was the favoured and anointed son and that he had been given opportunities that were denied them in the early days. But they could not deny the soundness of his methods. The results showed in the success of the farm, and this record year would validate his systems conclusively. When the pressures of the planting season or the harvest were relaxed, Lennie liked to paint and write. His brothers did not regard this as real work, and it fuelled the animosity that festered in their hearts.

Despite the constancy of his responsibilities and the resentment of his brothers, Lennie loved the bush and the rough farming life. Perhaps this was because his artist’s eyes saw beauty and feeling in the land that the others missed. He did not just see the land as a raw resource from which to make money. Rather, he saw the beauty and agelessness of the land, and he was determined to conserve as much of the natural bush as he could. He tried to keep some sensible controls over the clearing process as the move from cattle and sheep raising to grain cropping advanced.

Many of the farmers tore down the scrub with reckless abandon, but Lennie had insisted on a controlled and well-planned program as the land was being cleared for crops. As a result, the property was covered in a patchwork of cultivation paddocks, regularly punctuated with belts of natural timber, all interconnected from the low hills down to the various watercourses that drained the farm. Lennie advocated a balanced approach with a long-term plan and fortunately his father supported his views. If his brothers had their way, the land would be devoid of all trees except for a few lines of gums along the public roads which were protected from their bulldozers.

Of course Lennie had not lived through the desperately hard years of pioneering, droughts, floods and economic depression that had plagued his forebears, and his romantic ideals had never been tested like those of his father and older brothers. But still there was a special bond between Lennie and this land and it seized him now as he took in the smells of the bush. The scent of the wildflowers along the lane and the creek bank mingled with the musty aroma of the ripe grain that rippled in long furrows as a light wind raced across the field, moaning in the trees and dancing through the crops. The little breeze carried strange sweet marine smells up from the nearby creek, smells of fish and water birds and decaying vegetation along the water’s edge. He had known these special scents all his life. He associated them with the solitude of the bush and the quiet rural life he loved.

Lennie absent-mindedly led the modern harvesting machine along the rough surface of the lane that tunnelled under the gums to a broad paddock that rested along the banks of the Grasstree Creek. As he reached the paddock the smell of diesel fumes and grease from the machines suddenly overpowered the other bush scents and brought him back to the job at hand. He climbed out of the jeep and opened a wide wire gate, and then he stood aside as the machine entered the wheatfield. Lennie walked to the side of the tractor and signalled to the driver.

The man drew the machine to a halt and throttled back the diesel engine. ‘Get stuck into it Alan,’ Lennie called above the noise of the idling motor. ‘You can unload the grain down the other side near the lane; you have plenty of empty bags on the tray there. Someone will be along to relieve you about five this afternoon. A bloke named Noel Brinkley will turn up to sew the bags when you get a few off. He lives in that cottage you can see down at the end of the paddock across the lane.’

The driver nodded and looked at the cottage through the morning haze as Lennie returned to the jeep and climbed nimbly into the driver’s seat. He gazed back at the harvester until the machine went to work, then he drove slowly back along the lane as dawn broke over the countryside, flooding the field with shafts of light that filtered through the branches of the tall trees. The sun was now above the treetops like a red orb on the horizon, the rays pierced through the haze, painting the landscape a rusty hue.

Birds stirred in the trees as the machinery crept through the paddock of ripe wheat, harvesting the crop and noisily interrupting the silence of the bush. Alan Hale stared at the twisting spiral of the pick-up tray through the cloud of dust that rose around the harvester. The whirring cutters burrowed through the thick rows of crop, severing the pale stems and dispatching the swollen heads to the winding auger. The straw moved across the tray and disappeared into the bowels of the machine to be stripped of the grain.

A neat line of barren trash fed from the rear of the harvester, marking its passage as it moved in relentless circles towards the centre of the field. It was just after dawn, but already the day was growing hot and humid, drawing beads of sweat on the young man’s brow. Early summer rain had delayed the harvest, and it was now past the middle of December as rain again threatened to stall the harvesting process. A bank of dark clouds hung low along the horizon and Hale wondered if they would get the crop off before the usual Christmas storms broke.

Not that he really cared. This was just a job to him; he had little concern for the world outside the small cocoon he had built around himself over the years. He reflected on the long procession of foster parents, and his history of petty crime and frequent long periods in homes for ‘difficult boys.’ He had hated most of the foster parents, until Nanna Campbell. He had loved her. She was not old, as her name suggested, but young and pretty with a warm and caring nature that soon won his heart. Her husband was a brute, blaming her for their inability to produce children of their own, often beating her when he was on the drink.

He frowned as he remembered the beatings, hating himself for allowing this train of thought to enter his mind again. The beatings had often included him, and he could cope with that, but he could not bear to see his foster mother abused because he had loved her dearly. This love bound him to his foster home, in spite of the beatings and the abuse, conditions that had driven him away from countless other places over the years. He lost count of the times he had run away from foster parents before Nanna Campbell came into his life.

When his foster father was working away somewhere, leaving him alone with Nanna, these had been some of the best times of his life. She had showered him with love and attention, until he began to feel that he had at last found a mother and a home. His foster father was the only blot on the horizon. She would always try to rationalise her husband’s bad behaviour, although Hale never knew whom she sought to convince. ‘He can’t help what he is dear, and he works under a lot of pressure,’ she would say, ‘We must make the best of the life we are given.’

But one day when he was about thirteen years old he found his foster father choking and raping Nanna Campbell after a bout of boozing. He had snapped then. He smiled grimly as he remembered the feeling of raw power and sweet revenge as he swung the cricket bat again and again against the man’s head, too late to save his foster mother’s life.

His foster father got life in prison for his crime, and Hale was sent to the Westbrook farm home for boys, for five long years, though he could never understand why, because in his mind his only crime had been to try to save his foster mother. He had hated every one of those years and most of his fellow inmates as well. That was where he had learned to be an island, to live inside his own mind, away from the pain of the world. Now he was a drifter and a loner, never really trusting anyone, living in a very private world of his own. He had come to like the bush, preferring it to the city where he had grown up. At least in the country he had his own space, and people left him alone to hide in his ever-shrinking world of privacy.

The hundreds of birds that had been stirred from their rest by the noise now followed the harvester, rummaging eagerly in the rows of expended stubble for any grain that had been missed by the machine. Magnificent white cockatoos waited noisily in the tall gums along the creek until the harvester had passed to the opposite side of the field, their fear of man and machine greater than their hunger until then. When the harvester had passed, they swooped in a white cloud on the rows of trash, fighting one another for the grain.

The bright, red-crested rosellas and the glorious pink galahs were less timid; attacking the winnowed rows a few metres behind the noisy procession, stealing a march on their larger but less courageous cousins. The magpies, pee wees and butcherbirds were even more adventurous, diving low in front of the thrashing pick-up tray, or blatantly sitting on the machine itself. These meat eaters were not after the grain, but the millions of insects and mice that were disturbed by the harvesting process.

Hale grinned at the frenzied feeding activity as he watched the food-chain demonstration in progress. He could relate to all kinds of animals, and these simple creatures had never let him down the way people had during his short, troubled life. He watched a butcherbird swoop gracefully, the sun on its wings as it swallowed one of the many beautiful multicoloured butterflies that rose like a rainbow in front of the advancing harvester.

The old Ford tractor groaned under the load as it crawled along through the growing warmth of the Queensland summer day. Waves of heat rose from the engine and swept back across the machine and burned damply against the film of sweat on Hale’s face, the smell of diesel and hot oil heavy in his nostrils. Occasionally a thick patch of crop would increase the strain on the engine, drawing black puffs of smoke from the exhaust chimney as the motor choked on the load. The season had been good, the crop heavy, and a steady stream of plump grain poured into the storage hopper, requiring frequent stops to unload the grain into bags. By mid-morning neat triple lines of full bags were dotted across the harvested portion of the paddock at one end of the field, like rows of soldiers standing to attention, attesting to the bounty of the harvest.

Hale stopped the harvester near the rows of full bags, and moved to the side of the machine to dispense the latest load. He drew the grain from the hopper through the twin bagging chutes, filling two bags at a time. As each bag filled he quickly removed it and stacked it against the regimented rows that stood in the dry field. Showers of dust rose about the bags as he worked; the fine powdered straw clung to his sweat-soaked skin, causing him to itch constantly. He tried to put the discomfort out of his mind, resisting an urge to run to the creek and plunge into the cool waters. Such an option was always open to him, but he reasoned that the dust and sweat would be even more intolerable afterwards by comparison.

As he worked decanting the grain he looked up and saw a battered old Chevrolet truck draw to a halt in the lane at the end of the field. A tall, thin man left the vehicle and walked slowly through the stubble that littered the paddock. He was flanked by a tribe of children of various ages who had poured from the tray-back of the truck like sheep. Hale felt agitated around people and his pulse quickened as he watched the man approach. The old tractor continued to chug quietly as he filled the bags, as though in gratitude for the brief respite from its duties. He hoped the noise of the engine would hide him from the stranger, saving him from the need to talk. But the man moved close, offering his hand as the children stood back and watched curiously.

‘I’m Noel Brinkley,’ the dark man said, shouting a little above the noise of the tractor and peering keenly at Hale. ‘I’m here to start sewing up the bags. Just thought I’d say g’day so you’d know what was going on.’

Hale nodded nervously. ‘Alan Hale,’ he said, accepting Brinkley’s hand firmly. ‘Pleased to meet you. Just go ahead. I’ll catch up with you after a few more turns. It’ll be dinner time by then.’ Brinkley nodded, his bright green eyes locking with those of the younger man. Noel Brinkley would have been about forty or so, but well preserved and fit looking for his age.

Hale returned to the operator’s seat of the tractor, seeking refuge in the noise of the machinery, feeling somehow intimidated by the quiet man he had just met. Brinkley nodded again, peering reflectively at the younger man before moving away. He motioned his offspring to join him as he returned to the first row of open wheat bags near the edge of the paddock.

Brinkley and the eldest of his sons threaded large stainless steel sewing needles with lengths of straw-coloured twine, drawn from hanks that they had fastened around their waists like a belt. Then they began sewing the bags, closing the tops with rows of neat stitches. There was a certain pride in the way they worked, like a master tailor creating a fashion masterpiece, rather than men stitching up wheat bags. They rolled the newly sewn bags behind them as they advanced along the rows, arranging them neatly like soldiers on parade. The remaining children played happily about on the bags, until the heat of the day drove them to the nearby Grasstree Creek to swim in the cool waters.

The wheatfield covered about one hundred acres, sprawling away to meet the thick scrub on two sides, where the wall of tall trees bordered the paddock like a giant hedge. Brinkley squinted through the glare across at the tree line, remembering how this field had once looked just like that scrub, a mere two years ago. He had helped clear this paddock, and a lot more besides, to make way for the crops. He hated removing the majestic trees, but the post-war world needed food, and one could not eat trees. A wide belt of trees marked the passage of the Grasstree Creek that ran along the eastern side of the paddock. The northern end backed onto the lane where his old truck now stood.

Brinkley’s own small holding could be seen across the lane, nestled in a bend of the creek with the summer sun reflecting in a silver sheen from the corrugated iron roof. The lane passed along the edge of the paddock, crossed a crude wooden bridge over the creek, then it meandered through a patch of thick scrub before emerging in another, larger field on the far side of the stream. His fifteen-acre farm seemed out of place as it nestled among the huge holdings of the Symons’s empire.

He had acquired the small farm ten years before, now he never wanted to live anywhere else, or to do anything other than farm his land and do a few odd jobs about the district. His place was too small to grow wheat; he stuck to growing vegetables of various varieties that he sold to the local farming community or in the nearby township. ‘The salad bowl of the Downs’, the neighbours sometimes called his place, filling him with a quiet smug pride.

The small income from the vegetable crop was supplemented with a fairly generous child endowment payment from the government, due to his large family. He also picked up a few pounds from any piecemeal work he could find about the area. He had little interest in making any real money and he would walk off a job if he became tired of it, or if someone upset him. His ability to do most things as a handyman stood him in good stead and he was always in demand. The locals said if it needs fixing or building, Brinkley could probably do it, if he wanted to. But they had all learned never to threaten his independence, or he would refuse to help every time, even when he needed the money.

He liked the simplicity of his life and was sometimes blind to the hardships that it imposed on his family, because their living conditions were primitive by the standards of the day. His cottage had none of the mod cons of his neighbours’ homes. There was no running water, electricity or septic systems for him. But he did not have to maintain the house or prepare the meals and nurture his large brood, as did his long-suffering wife.

As long as there was a good meal on the table at night he was contented to sit near the old radio and listen to his favourite program, or read a magazine by the sputtering kerosene lamp on his bedside table. It never occurred to him that there was an element of selfishness in his attitude. His children did not even attend school on a regular basis and his wife saw to their education by correspondence, adding another burden to her already overloaded existence.

Brinkley and the boy worked steadily and quietly in the heat, oblivious to the streams of sweat that ran down their faces and washed moist channels through the build-up of grime on their skin, or the flies that swarmed about them in a hovering black cloud. They moved easily along the rows of bags, working with a steady, almost mechanical action as they advanced. The man’s hands moved with deft precision, using short economical movements as he sewed. A quick hitch of the twine and an ear appeared at the edge of the bag. Then twelve neat stitches seemed to glide easily in and out of the opening, followed by another quick hitch and another ear. Two stitches down the side of the bag to tie off, a twist of the long stainless steel needle to cut the twine; then the bag rolled back to join its tightly sealed neighbours.

He reached for another length of twine and rethreaded his needle, almost before the last bag had stopped moving. The process looked like one single, fluid movement to Hale who watched from the corner of his eye as he decanted another load from the harvester. The boy lacked his father’s deftness and speed, but between them they had sewn about three hundred bags, and it was only about one in the afternoon. The man and the boy worked under a swarm of small sticky bush flies that grew in plague proportions during the summer, the insects covered their hats and rested as a squirming mass on their backs. Hale had not learned to ignore the flies as the locals had and he swatted and cursed the pests in a state of constant agitation.

Hale looked across at the creek through the shimmering heat haze that rose in waves from the field and beyond, distorting the distant landscape into twisted silver images that seemed somehow ghostly and surreal. The pale green leaves of the gums along the creek glistened in the bright sunlight, the outline of the trees losing itself as it merged into the bright summer sky. Beaten by the fierce midday heat the birds had retired from the paddock and now sat quietly in the trees, apart from the occasional sharp screech from a cockatoo or a galah. They waited for the cool of the afternoon before they would feed again.

Hale watched the procession of children returning noisily and wetly from the creek, their eerie silhouettes appearing through the heatwaves like developing photographs. He envied them their cool independence; too young yet to feel the burden of toil or perish that was imposed upon adults. A thin woman with three smaller children in tow crawled through the fence near the lane and approached carrying a picnic basket.

‘Here comes the wife with some tucker,’ Brinkley said. ‘You better join us for dinner, she’ll have made enough for us all.’

‘I’ll join you,’ Hale said slowly, ‘but I got me own tucker, thanks.’ He went to the toolbox of the tractor and returned with a battered metal lunchbox. ‘I might bludge a cuppa tea but.’ The woman flopped on a freshly sewn bag, fanning herself with her hat as she stared at Brinkley.

‘Yer bloody spoiled today, you old bastard,’ she said good naturedly, a wry smile tugging at the lines around her mouth. Her face had been beautiful once but the years of toil and worry had taken their toll, now only her eyes retained the promise of what had been.

‘You won’t get fresh tucker when you move to the next paddock, it kills me walking in this heat.’

‘Better meet me family,’ Brinkley told Hale, ignoring his wife’s complaint with practised ease. ‘That whingeing old bat is the missus; name’s Sarah I think, we never bother. The kids call her Mar, an’ I call her what I like.’ Hale nodded, grinning a little at the introduction, envying the closeness as Sarah looked at him and smiled tiredly. ‘This is Edward, works and swears like a trooper,’ he indicated his working companion of the morning. ‘The little bloke is George, bit young for the labour camp yet, but next year he’s on. The girl with no front teeth is Patsy, and the skinny one sittin’ on the bag is Jean. The three little ones don’t count yet.’

Hale stared at the collection of children. They were dirty, clothed in patched and torn rags, but they seemed to be robust and healthy enough despite their outward appearance. Jean frowned at her father’s description of her, then she smiled at Hale, her eyes studying his body and face with uninhibited frankness, her lips slightly parted and wet. She drew up her knees, spreading her thighs as she did so. The fabric of her slacks, still damp from the creek, clung to the contours of her crotch. She leaned forward, exposing the swell of her small breasts as she rested her elbows on her knees and stared with smouldering eyes at Hale.

He coloured deeply and she giggled, glancing knowingly at her siblings, conscious of her effect on the young man. The other children took in the exchange and laughed with her. They had not had any sex education, but their budding sexuality and their explorations of their own bodies told them what had just occurred. Jean was only about fifteen, Hale decided with a stab of disappointment; the others appeared to step down in around two-year intervals.

Brinkley and his wife seemed oblivious to their daughter’s teasing of the young man. A sleek black Ford Customline that purred down the lane and parked behind Brinkley’s truck distracted them. ‘Here comes Ken Symons,’ Brinkley said with a sigh, ‘get ready for some piss and wind.’

A tall, lithe looking man climbed from the car and vaulted the fence easily, his body language full of confident happiness and contentment, like a man with few worries in his life. He danced along the rows of sewn bags, singing flatly in a nasal voice, ‘I’ve got a lovely bunch of testicles, see them all a dangling in a row.’

The children laughed wickedly at the impromptu performance and the risque words of the song. Noel grinned and Sarah rolled her eyes and shook her head hopelessly.

‘Hello Brinkleys,’ the man called. ‘Shit there’s a wing of you now but. How many of you are there? Let me see.’ He pretended to count, screwing up his face and mouthing the numbers. ‘Thirty-seven,’ he said at last, scooping up the four-year-old who cowered near his mother.

‘Not firty-seben, only seben and one what’s away,’ the small boy frowned. ‘Well that’s e-bloody-nough too,’ Ken Symons said. ‘What are you doin’ Brinkley, breedin’ ’em for the slave trade?’

‘Knack all else to do, except slave for rich cockies like you,’ Brinkley said, ‘an’ there’s plenty more in the bag, let me tell you.’

‘Well they can bloody well stay in the bag!’ Sarah spat hotly. ‘I’m finished. Yer’ll have to find another hobby, yer dirty old bugger.’

Ken laughed until the tears welled in his eyes. ‘An’ what are you doin’ sittin’ on yer arse, Hale?’ he called suddenly, only half in jest, shifting the conversation. Hale shuffled his feet, caught off guard. He had been mesmerised by the tone of the conversation, and all in front of the children.

‘I’m havin’ me dinner,’ he said petulantly. ‘Been at it since daylight you know.’

‘So what! I worked most of the night, an’ I’m still vertical.’

‘Yeah, but you own the bloody joint,’ Hale defended.

Ken Symons raised an arm in mock despair. ‘See what happens. Yer rescue a man from the pits of unemployment an’ he spits in yer face. Look at this,’ he added, waving towards the sewn bags. ‘This old bastard and a boy have almost caught up with you, they’ll be blowin’ wind up yer arse by sundown.’ He studied the bags for a second. ‘How many have yer sewn so far, Noel?’ he asked, changing the subject again, much to Hale’s relief.

‘About 300.’ Brinkley said. ‘There’s about 400 off, with about a fifth of the field harvested. It’s 100 acres, so it’s runnin’ at about twenty bags to the acre. Bloody good crop.’

‘Yer good at sums. How do you know all that?’ Ken said staring at him with creased brows, a bit stunned by the calculations. Brinkley grinned. ‘I cleared every inch of this friggin’ paddock, remember. The rest is simple arithmetic.’

‘So you did,’ Ken said slowly, his brows creased in thought. ‘So you bloody well did. The rest of the crops are doing well too, it’s gunna be a record year, folks. The bloody flood almost washed us all away last year, and a friggin’ drought the year before that. But the flood left the land so rich and fertile that we are gunna make a killin’ this year.’

‘We?’ Brinkley said slowly. Ken stared at him for a full minute, weighing up the meaning in the words. ‘Yes, we,’ he said at last. ‘You’re gettin’ sixpence a bag to sew the bastards. The old man will be paying a bonus for sure; and we are gunna have the greatest granddaddy of a Christmas piss up and party you have ever seen on Christmas eve, mark my words. All paid for by the Symons’s clan. That means you do all friggin’ right, don’t it?’

Brinkley laughed, winking at his wife. ‘I’d rather have the quid and a half a bag you get, but I don’t want the headaches. We’ll be happy with what we get, and you greedy cockies will still have a quid to give me a bit of work next year as well if I need it.’

Ken laughed in reply, and then he rose and sprinted to the tractor, pausing before cranking the machine into life. ‘I’ll do a few laps while you finish your feed, Alan,’ he said kindly to Hale, a little repentant of his earlier comments. ‘Why don’t you go and cool off in the creek?’

Hale shook his head, colouring again as Jean Brinkley grinned at him quizzically, her eyes eagerly restating the question. ‘I’ll be right,’ Hale said, blushing and avoiding the girl’s eyes. ‘Just do one lap while I finish me tucker, then I’ll take over again.’ The girl looked disappointed.

‘Suit yerself,’ Ken yelled. ‘Derwent Byrne and Lennie will be here later with one of the trucks to pick up the first load. We gotta get it under cover or delivered to the siding at Yandilla as soon as we can, I don’t know how long the rain will hold off.’ He looked at the bank of dark clouds along the western horizon. ‘All we need is about another week, then it can piss down all it likes. Come to think of it, I’ll send Willie Thompson with them; more brawn and less brain will come in handy. He laughed again. ‘You’ll have the loser, the poser and the boozer on yer hands this arvo, Noel,’ he said lightly. Brinkley knew the older brothers called Lennie the loser, but he was not sure who earned the other titles.

The tractor burst into life; billowing clouds of thick black smoke as Ken sent the contraption moving along the rows of ripe wheat. ‘Is it my imagination, or does the bloody thing go faster and the crop yield more with Ken in the saddle?’ Brinkley mused.

                 

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