Restitution

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Colin Bridges and his wife Nancy sat on their horses surveying rich grasslands that not long ago had been dry desert. Once or twice in a generation weather pattern collided to produce that perfect storm series filling dry creek beds and rivers and providing hundreds of miles of flooding in this interior heartland of Australia.

Most of central Australia being under sea level and normally rain deficient rivers flowing inland from mountains to the north and east were normally dry channels until this perfect weather event happened destructive in its initial onslaught but a boon as wind and clouds retreated. Then slowly as flood waters headed southwest it became a brown inland sea heading slowly toward the salt pans in the entre. In a way that still cannot be explained birds from the coastal areas migrated by their million’s thousands of miles to this inland sea to remain until over an extended period the waters above ground seeped into aquifers below the surface replenishing them or evaporated in the blazing heat of inland summers.

Colin turned to his wife and spoke.

“Nancy better we camp on this relatively high ground and set up a wide circle with whitewash to show where the air drop of supplies should be dumped from the plane, I’d arranged for a month back. We are running low on supplies and the camel train would take too long to receive these supplies though a lot cheaper in delivery. Get one of the drovers to do that and the others can set up our collective tents as a shade from the sun.  We can do that among the stand of small gum trees over there. Avoid the big trees as branches have been known to fall when least expected and they can be very heavy. People have been seriously hurt when one of those big branches came down on them and I hear one man was killed several years ago. Keep an eye out for snakes while they are setting up camp as there are some around that could wipe you out with their venom before the flying doctor could reach us for aid and transport to the nearest hospital.”

Nancy wheeled around and went to talk with their head of the drover team. They’d be here for some time while the beef cattle fattened up to watch the new sea slowly retreat and grasslands emerge from nowhere as the sea retreated. Important to set up shifts for now they were settling and as the cattle began to spread out isolated ones would be vulnerable to wild dogs that had followed them at a distance for their long journey hoping to pick up a feast working as a team to isolate one and attack. The young ones were particularly vulnerable, but the herd usually rallied around the young and those dogs were aware of the damage those hooves and horns could do if they got too close to a packed herd.

Bird life was already there in abundance, and one could be desensitized to the needs of the herd watching the grandeur of this beautiful country come to life as water slowly moved on its way and wildlife proliferated around grass and water. Kangaroos and emus intermingled seamlessly with the herd as all enjoyed the bounties of the land together.

Colin Bridges smiled in appreciation as he took in the scene. He reflected on how some of his brothers had fled to the coast during some of the long periods of dry when food on the cattle station was in short supply and water increasingly hard to pump from the aquifers. During those occasions there was not enough to supply the Bridges large extended family and their dozens of workers. Now and then they’d return to visit their roots for a family reunion and complain about the metallic taste of that water which took days to cool off and seemed to coat the skin when one bathed in it.

But Colin and Nancy who was born in the outback relished the lifestyle and could not imagine living elsewhere. Their cattle station way back northeast contained a sizable population of an aboriginal clan who shared the bounties of the station in season when they were not on walkabout and there was an easy relationship between these original inhabitants of the land and the Bridges family who all spoke their dialect fluently. The Bridges family realized someday as more and more of the Bridges family migrated to the coast it would probably lapse back to an aboriginal possession and Colin’s most trusted station management team already consisted of aboriginal men and women who’d shown an interest and aptitude to conduct the business of this station in a profitable and efficient way.

One was to join them in the station helicopter within a couple of days to keep an eye on the herd as they spread out. It was impractical to bring other mechanized vehicles that normally served the station due to the nature of this thoroughly wet ground and the long journey to obtain fuel supplies. Horses were the best under these circumstances. The cost of bringing the helicopter and its fuel had been debated for a long time before finally deciding to bring it as profits from the sale of cattle when taken back to the station to finalize with grain feeding before trucking to the nearest sales centre would have them in a good financial position for many years to come.

That evening they sat around a campfire roasting the evening meal before distributing to those in outposts watching over the herd. There were two to an outpost with one sleeping a shift while the other worked. Colin and Nancy took turns to visit around during the night so see all was well with the herd. The brilliance of night stars out there in the red centre of Australia unpolluted was breathtaking. Now and then, there was to be heard the clicking of wooden sticks and songs in that Aboriginal dialect they were familiar with which Nancy found restful and comforting in the dark. As a child she’d travelled widely with her father who was a government administrator and had a working knowledge of many of the dialects.

On the second night one of the outlying cattle guards rode into the central camp to inform them there was an aboriginal encampment not too far from where two of them were stationed and it was a local tribe whose language differed. While the dialect was different, they could somehow communicate, and he reported that tribe was unhappy the herd invaded their tribal hunting ground. They’d moved there the previous day and the Bridges herd were encroaching on their hunting territory. They were demanding the cattle be removed from where they were intending to hunt. Colin was familiar with tensions between tribes over hunting grounds and knew if he didn’t act his cattle would be killed in revenge and perhaps some of his men could be speared so he ordered that part of the herd rounded up and moved further south. There was plenty of grasslands for all and he wanted to respect the traditional owner tribe’s rights without creating a war between them and his own aboriginal workers who were from a tribe further north.

 He hastened to meet with the elders and sat outside their camp waiting for them to extend an invitation to him to enter their camp as was acceptable etiquette. They made him sit for an hour then a delegation approached. Colin wished Nancy was with him as she could probably understand their dialect better. However, he struggled to communicate with the dialect he did know fluently, and they somehow were able to understand his apology and had already noted he’d had the cattle withdrawn from their stated hunting grounds and the meeting ended cordially with Colin issuing an invitation for the elders to attend his camp where a feast was to be prepared to honour them. They accepted and were intrigued Nancy had a reasonable grasp of their language. After that feast together Colin and Nancy were invited to participate in a corrobboree which they accepted. Following that corrobboree there there was no further conflict. A week later the tribe departed north, and the herd spread out again.

Colin in planning the trip had decided to travel quickly as far as it was practicable south so grasslands could be accessed on the slow return to the cattle station. Weeks went by and grasslands had been well used in their camp area and Colin called the workers together. It was time to move the cattle on a leisurely journey home for the final fattening process back at the station. The helicopter was called in by satellite phone to help round up strays and get the herd ready together for the leisurely trip home. The cattle were doing a favour to the environment by preventing the grass growing to a height where the blistering heat would dry them out to make a fire hazard as dry lightning strikes ignited dry grass and fire raced through hundreds of miles of withered grasslands destroying wildlife in its race through the country. On the way back they passed through the homeland of the tribe they’d befriended and were welcomed knowing Colin and his crew would not be stopping to encroach on their land. They moved through this section of the journey quickly to maintain the tribe’s friendship.

They arrived back at the station to a joyous welcome from the wives of those men who’d accompanied them on their cattle drive over the long weeks. Plans were made quickly for the grain feeding that would finish the fattening process before all, but the younger animals would find their way to the sales centres by road train. Then the beginnings of a new herd would commence after that sale.

Colin and Nancy luxuriated in a private enclave in the stream emanating from deep in the earth’s crust under pressure on their return. The water came from the ground at just below boiling temperatures but was rerouted in a bypass to holding tank’s where it cooled over time. There were various tanks one of which was used for household use and the one they bathed in provided water to nurture small crops for the use of the whole station families in support of their household cooking or serviced the herd in various watering holes on the property distributed by underground pipes. They were mostly self-supporting, but items needed other than what they could grow would be delivered by truck monthly from the nearest town several hours travel away by dirt road made impassable when it did rain. The bore’s output of water could be controlled or shut down so this precious water resource would not be wasted as aquifers would be depleted in the long years of drought and needed to be carefully managed. Colin turned to Nancy.

“I’m getting a bit old for this kind of trip Nancy. We’re pressing along in years now and most of our siblings have retired in one of the many cities on the coast. They have no interest in this station and have no need of money. Eventually we’ll not be able to carry this kind of load as we age further. We have no children so what’s going to happen to this property we love? Have you given this any thought?”

“I have Colin but didn’t know how you’d react if I bought our ageing to your notice. You’ve always been a hands on and independent individual and that’s why I took an interest in you long ago and fluttered my eyes at you to get your attention as I thought you’d make a great partner in life I’d feel happy to share with. I’m glad you finally caught the hint!”

Colin began to chuckle, and this developed into a full belly laugh.

“You were not very subtle Nancy, and its just as well as I was too shy to tell you I thought you were the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. Still are old girl! It did give me courage to mumble a will you marry me expecting to be turned down.”

“What do you mean old girl you’re an old fossil.”

Now both were laughing uncontrollably at the memories but finally sobered down in memory lane. Finally, Nancy spoke.

“Well, your family don’t want it and my family are in distant places in city life and would not fit in here now. I suppose our real family is right here. Let’s return it to the tribe after all it was their land to begin with and they’ve been so loyal to us even though our ancestors took it over. Your foreman has the smarts to run it as head of a corporation to be set up legally as he’s taking a huge load already. So many of the tribe are familiar with machinery and its maintenance and Sheila is already maintaining the books and deals with our accountants and lawyers under our supervision. We could mentor them all into useful roles and I think they’d be glad to run it efficiently as they’ve already proved themselves. Let’s talk with the foreman first to see how he feels about the proposal and whether it would continue to be viable under aboriginal administration. If he’s on board then we could call a meeting of the tribe. I’m sure they’d care for us as we age as I don’t want to join the others over in the cities of the coast. I’ll be buried here.”

“Sounds like a plan Nancy. I don’t see any other practical solution. Selling it would be a travesty of justice and who’d get the money after we are gone anyway? Probably the government.”

Next day an overjoyed foreman called a meeting of the tribe to outline the proposal. The tribe urged Colin and Nancy to stay with them and mentor them through the takeover and they’d still be considered the patriarchs of the tribe. This was their land, and they’d have a ceremony to welcome it back again as their own but would reinforce that with the white man’s laws to make it legal and fend off human predators bent on making it their own. They were quite confident they’d manage it efficiently within the confines of law and show the world their worth.

Legal formalities were eventually cared for, and Colin and Nancy continued to help out encouraging and tutoring in the business until they were no longer able to do that effectively as they grew very old. At the age of ninety Nancy succumbed to a long-standing health condition and was buried on the property. Colin was inconsolable at the death of his lifelong loving partner and passed to his rest soon after being buried next to his Nancy.

The cattle station continued to be run profitably under tribal administration and everyone chipped in to make it a success. Other aboriginal tribes watching this from their own tribal homelands took inspiration and visited the property to observe and be mentored in turn and began searching for a way to make their own mark in the world as cooperatives launching themselves into profitable enterprises with a will to succeeding in a now global world where competition was the order of the day and only those willing to launch out in confidence and work hard would survive.

Copyright Notice

© Copyright 2023 Ian Grice, “ianscyberspace.” All rights reserved.

10 thoughts on “Restitution

    1. Back in the mid 1950’s our home in Gympie went under flood right up to the roof. At that time we were not on metric system so I remember the flood literally walking up our back steps at 4 feet 6 inches an hour and they were extracting the heavy furniture they could salvage waist deep in water. I remember the weeks that followed getting mud out of the floors and walls and the awful stench after flood receded.

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  1. I love this story. I find Australia very interesting and enjoy hearing anything about it. I liked the decision Colin and Nancy made to do with the cattle station, in my opinion it was the right thing to do. Great story sweet Ian.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The red center of Australia is very interesting Pooja. Many cattle stations are so large that it takes hours to reach from one side to another. Rivers can be dry for years but monsoons in the north could dump enough waters to send huge volumes of water south into the center draining into vast inland lakes. Then by some miracle coastal birds a couple of thousand miles away converge on this vast inland sea and stay there until the waters reduce over time into salt pans. And for a time the inland becomes grasslands.

      Liked by 1 person

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