Chapter 2. The Attempted Conquest
That was then, this was now. Sheila Carter sat and pondered the stories handed down to her as she grew up. She was mixed race but in her heart, she identified with her tribal ancestors. This had been encouraged by her father Neville who despite his white skin, tanned brown over the years from hard labour on the farm was more tribal than European. Her ten brothers now operated the farm while Neville spent most of his time with those tribal people who remained. The old generation were all gone to dream time, and the young had inherited the wander lust of their ancestors and now it was safer for them they scattered abroad. Occasionally they resurfaced to visit remaining relatives and their tribal half-brothers the Carter boys. Some of these boys had married tribal girls and some were single.
Sheila had been educated along with her brothers at the local country school. It had been hard! Sometimes the kids joked about her parentage but when she reported that to her brothers also in grades at her one teacher school they had a little understanding with those who were persecuting Sheila down behind the school’s tool shed and that came to an abrupt halt. From that time on the kids treated her respectfully but there were only a few she could count on as friends during her school experience.
She graduated and went on to do the nursing course. This time there were no brothers to protect her, they’d left after high school to work the farm full time. The hospital matron was equally hard on every student, so she couldn’t complain about racism there. She was gratified to see the smile of approval from matron on her graduation and to feel the warm squeeze of her hand as the diploma was handed over.
Sheila was back at the farm for vacation. It felt so good to feel fresh country air caressing her as she sat on the ridge. In the distance down by the river were the remains of a once thriving aboriginal camp. It was deserted now. The few aboriginals who remained were housed in barracks on the farm. The water tower on top of the mountain served pumped water from the river to the tank which supplied the farm’s extended family. Inhabitants of this large property still preferred bathing in the river to piped in showers on the hillside. She could see some children splashing around there now.
While it was home and would always be she’d been introduced to a new world over her nursing years. There’s been the dances which she’d first refused to attend with other nurses but eventually been talked into and thoroughly enjoyed from that first time on. Then there were the trips to beach on days off where she looked out on the ocean for the first time in wonder. She’d been drawn to the sea and its creatures. Something inside her could see her ancestors travelling a much wider area with included the sea. She felt sad this had been prevented her as she grew up.
Sheila got up and stretched. There was to be a dance in the district meeting hall and she needed to freshen up and put on her Western clothes again. Her brothers would accompany her with their families. Only two of the brothers were unmarried now. Most were married to tribal girls, but one brave country girl had said yes to one of the brothers and her whiteness stood out among the rest. They all got along just fine, but the poor girl was discriminated against by the rest of the farmer folk for marrying out of white society. Funny that at the dance no one seemed to discriminate against her, in fact she was the flower sought out by all the bees in the hive on dance nights. She tossed her head in the knowledge she could have any of them and discard them at her pleasure. She was an original, they were foreigners to be played with but kept at a respectable distance providing for her escape if needed. There was that trust issue to deal with.
The extended family walked to the meeting hall. It was only five kilometres from their property holding and they enjoyed walking through bush tracks, over cropped farmlands and through fence gates between crops and grazing paddocks. There was an unwritten understanding that such transit was permitted provided crops were not sampled along the way. Farmers with a wary eye and a shotgun ranged their property to challenge man or beast not keeping to the rules. Not so on dance nights. Though weary from hard work the whole community met at the meeting hall on dance night or special occasions.
Old Mable wife of farmer Conker played a mean honky tonk piano and there was an assortment of instruments to grace the occasion. No one cared that these instruments sometimes had an argument with each other. Everyone was there. The old folk huddled in corners discussing the price of cattle and commodities and the assortment of rural remedies to cure all manner of human and animal diseases. Initially young men huddled near the entrance joking and daring each other to cross the floor to dance with young women huddled on the other side expectantly giggling as they discussed merits of young men at the door.
There was a cacophony of sounds as the band warmed up eventually finding an acceptable blend and young men started prodding each other and whispering. Sheila had seen it all before and smiled to herself. Bush turkeys all of them she thought to herself and then she laughed to the surprise of one of her former school friends sitting next to her. Jill Carlson studied Sheila and looked around to see what the joke was all about. But by that time the young men had plucked up courage and were heading in their direction. The girls put on their disinterested look. Better to look disinterested when being passed by for someone else than to look miserable at being left out. A disinterested girl was a challenge to a young man, a girl looking depressed was to be avoided at all costs as it meant they were desperate and must have been rejected before for reasons unknown.
Two of the local lads strode confidently to where Sheila and Jill were sitting and both asked Sheila to dance with them. Jill fought to keep her disinterested look, but Sheila could feel a coldness envelop her. She shook her head.
“Not now, I’m a little tired and would like to hang out a little longer here.”
The two contestants looked at each other in surprise. They thought Sheila would be easy pickings for a later visit to watch the moon outside. They’d been refused in front of the gang and that would never do. Sheila’s siblings were already out on the floor enjoying themselves, but kept a wary eye out for their sister as they passed by. The boys became insistent not wanting to lose face.
They turned to Jill, “Do you want to dance?” Jill shook her head. She too didn’t like their attitude. The boys laughed and tried to pull the two girls onto the dance floor but were tapped on the shoulder. They spun around to challenge and were confronted by two of Sheila’s older brothers who towered above them.
“The girls were waiting for us as they’d promised us this dance, sorry about that lads!” The brothers smiled pleasantly and the two young farmers taking in their size and bulk nodded and headed for another knot of girls who they knew would be more accepting. However, their manhood had been challenged and they wouldn’t let that rest. Suddenly Sheila was on the top list of their intended conquests.
To be continued
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