About the Author
Godfrey Gibson was born and raised a city girl in
though always busy, found time to tell stories of outback
She lived in
Researching her father’s family stories led to this book being written.
bolt of lightning could have thrown him like her
words. The colour drained from his tanned face, his flat stomach heaved, he
staggered like a drunk and tears clouded his vision. The room was spinning and
he was losing control. He moved backwards until his hand reached the door
handle, then he turned and ran. His horse, still sweating from his long ride
home, was tied to the rail. As much as she needed the rest, he leapt into the
saddle, pulled hard on the rein to release it and galloped away. The hooves
pounded out of
In the main street, the hotel loomed into sight, its timber structure dark among the light-painted buildings either side. The four timber stairs leading to the veranda were no hurdle for him and he rode them like a wild bull, through the swinging doors into the bar.
The lamps had been lit and the noisy crowd settled at the bar were deep in conversation over the ten-ounce gold find that day at Slattery Creek. Elaborately dressed women moved between the seated men with trays of drinks, and somewhere in the background a lone musician played a mouth organ, the notes rising with the thick cigarette smoke.
The turmoil of the horse thundering in moved them to silence. With whip in hand Alfred focused his eyes on the Irishman and moved straight towards him, lashing with such fury that tables tumbled, glass shattered and people fell screaming, trying to get out of his way. His horse, frightened by the commotion, reared onto its hind legs kicking out with its fores, but Alfred held tight, his whip continuing in a cracking frenzy. The Irishman fell to the floor covered in blood, scrambling to find some protection. Alfred turned and left as rapidly as he had come. The noise levels were deafening as the shocked crowd, bewildered by what had just happened, searched for answers.
On and on Alfred rode, not knowing where he was heading, not caring what lay ahead. Night turned to day before he realised he was near Goulburn. His arms were heavy, his eyelids drooping when his horse stopped, too tired to continue. Alfred slid out of the saddle and walked her to the willow tree alongside the riverbank. Letting her loose, he sunk into the grass where he drifted into a deep but troubled sleep. A muzzle nudging his face awoke him. His thoroughbred was rested and the sun was hot and high in the sky; it was around noon. At the riverbank, he splashed his face and filled his hat to give his horse a drink.
“Good girl,” he said, stroking her mane, “take it easy.” He moved the hat back and forth. “I know, it’s time for some tucker.”
He continued to stroke her, at the same time looking around at the hills, surprised by how far they had travelled. Thirty hours had passed since he had last eaten and hunger pains led him into town instead of back along the road he had come. His heart was heavy but his pockets bulged with cash from the shearing season just ended.
The bar at the Goulburn Hotel served a lamb roast and he picked his way through it, not enjoying the food. He ordered one beer, then another, then another. Heads turned to look at the stranger. Not for a long time had they seen anyone carry a roll of money the size he displayed each time he ordered another drink.
“Where did you get all that money, mate?” a scruffy toothless man beside him asked as he drew on his cigarette. “Did you rob a bank?” He blew the smoke into Alfred’s face.
Alfred, determined not to be taken in with his taunt and not in the mood for conversation, tried hard to ignore him by not giving him the courtesy of a reply, but the man was like a dog with a bone and would not let go. “Money is hard to come by these days and you seem to have more than your share, mate.”
Alfred stood and moved further down the bar, at the same time pushing his money roll deeper into his pocket. The scruff slipped off his seat and followed him. Alfred finished his beer before speaking. “It’s none of your damn business where I got the money. Go mind your own business and sit somewhere else.”
The scruff too had had one too many and pushed at Alfred. Being much younger and stronger, Alfred gave the scruff one great shove and he rolled over backwards, splitting his head. Men ran from everywhere to protect the old local and Alfred found himself in the centre of a ring fight. Young and old alike glared at him, many punched him, and he had little choice but to defend himself. One of his punches landed and another man hit the dust. An all-out brawl followed, mirrors shattered from flying bottles and chaos reigned when the police arrived. Naturally, the word of the locals was sacrosanct. Alfred was arrested and taken off to the gaol house.
Once he had booked Alfred, the policeman addressed him. “A report came through from Carcoar today and you fit that description. Did you come from there?”
“I can explain,” Alfred said, but his words were ignored.
Alfred pleaded his case recounting the past 48 hours to the judge, who, although sympathetic to his cause, was not about to release a man that appeared to have gone mad. When the gavel hit the bench, his sentence was three months in the Goulburn Gaol for drunk and disorderly behaviour.
The days in Goulburn were as hot as the nights were cold. It was dirty, noisy and crowded compared to any other place Alfred had stayed. Even when a bunkhouse at a station was unbearable because of sheep grease, he could sleep out under the stars. However, here there was no relief from the stench. Every day seemed like a month, and being idle left a man with too much time to think. In hindsight, that day in Carcoar would have been best resolved by simply leaving town. Now that his rage had subsided, he realised he would have been smarter not to have let his heart rule his head, not to have sought revenge, not to have been driven to where a man ought not go. However, part of him remained numb.
The warden stopped by for a few words with Alfred from time to time, sensing he was a knowledgeable chap unlike the local drunks he usually held.
you hear about the Boer War in
Alfred listened then asked the warden, “Would you volunteer?”
“No,” he replied, “I have a job to do here and I have children. But you would be better off there than here, Alfred.”
are they fighting for, do you think? Could it be for the rich gold deposits in
“I don’t know much about it, but Henry Lawson wrote to the Bulletin saying he did not agree with sending troops. He questioned why men would cross the sea to shoot men they had never seen and whose quarrel they do not and cannot understand,” the warden replied.
“The Boers want independence but they won’t get it,” Alfred continued. “The British accuse the Boers of bullying, but they want independence which the Brits won’t give them because of the gold and the diamonds.”
The warden looked puzzled; surely there had to be another reason.
“And the volunteers won’t get any of that gold either,” Alfred said, before returning to writing a letter at his table.
Conversations with Alfred always left the warden questioning himself and realising he needed more information to continue a discussion with him. Nevertheless, he liked having his mind stretched.
On December 7th, the warden rushed to Alfred with more news.
“The Queensland Labour Government has lost power!”
“No,” Alfred said, then went on, “You’ve got that wrong, only five days ago they gained power. They’re the first labour government in the world to take power, the first in the world, they made history.”
“I know, I know,” he rushed on, “but a motion of no confidence was passed and Mr Dawson tendered his resignation.”
Alfred remained silent, trying to digest what he had heard.
you sure of this? He won over the north and
“Five days,” Alfred repeated. “Well, that will make history.”
Alfred turned away, deep in thought. The warden returned to his desk.
Christmas came and there was no good cheer or pudding, but the warden brought him a letter which Alfred opened apprehensively and turned away to read it.
By the time your letter arrived we had already heard
the sad news. Your Uncle John came from the police station.
As you said in your letter, the circumstances under
which you left make it very difficult for you to return but your father and I
welcome you here should you change your mind.
Our heart aches for you. Stay safe son, whatever you
Your loving mother, Anne.
Alfred tried hard not to focus on Christmas memories; it was too painful.
He had only one week left to serve, and when it was up the warden knew he would miss him.
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