I’d never been this far from home, and I’d definitely never been anywhere so big and open before; up in the mountains, where I come from, you never see distances like these. Except from a couple of spots right on top of the High Plains, the mountains hold you in their protective embrace; that place was so bare. Out there there’s nothing from horizon to horizon and you could ride for days without anything changing; it made you feel somehow exposed, naked, vulnerable. The other blokes reckoned I’d get used to it; they all said they were the same when they first came out here.
I’d been driving cattle up onto the High Plains since I was big enough to handle a horse, but that was always with Dad. It was only last year, when I turned fifteen, that Dad said I was old enough to leave home for a big drive; six months I was away from home – it was the adventure of a lifetime.
Ten of us were on our way to ???? in Western Australia, to pick up droving work on some of the longest cattle routes in the whole world. Of the ten, myself, Jimmie Withers and Dave Prescott were on our first long drive away from home; the other seven were older blokes, and our parents had entrusted us to their care for the duration of our journey. All seven of the older men did this trip every year; six months out of every year they were away from home, but in that six months they could make a good years wages. I didn’t want to do this when I got older, but for now, it was a chance for some adventure and to earn enough money to start thinking about marrying Mary.
It had taken us weeks already; we’d travelled down the Murray on a steamboat as far as Murray Bridge. We were talking to this bloke who owned a Station over near the South Australian border and we picked up a job taking four prize bulls to his Station for him; it was easy money, we were going that way anyway.
Since then it had been day after day of this flat, dry nothingness; at each well or waterhole we loaded our packhorses with as much water as they could carry and set off again into the void.
We hadn’t seen a soul since we’d left the Station and were just coming up to yet another waterhole when it happened the first time; I didn’t even see him till the shot rang out, it bloody near deafened me. I heard one of the other blokes say “Bloody good shot!” as I turned to watch the black man topple onto the bare ground of the hillock where he had been standing. He was a skinny bugger, even for an Abo, and the 3-0 bullet had taken off the top half of his head. My head spun round to see Bill Thompkins, one of the older blokes, lower his rifle from his shoulder.
“OK, you young blokes, get your guns out!” he ordered “there’ll be more of those bastards about so it’s time for some fun.” I look back now, across all those years, and I still can’t really understand why we did it; I can say “we just did what we were told” or that “everybody was doing it” or even “it was Government policy” but none of that makes it sit right.
Ten men on horseback, with rifles at the ready, shooting every adult male we could find; and in the frenzy of it all, we were having fun! When all the men were dead we moved into their camp, if that’s what you could call it. I’d never seen an Abo camp before, the only Abo’s left in my country lived in houses – almost like whitemen. These creatures were disgusting; even the women were naked, and they lived more like a pack of mongrel dogs than human beings.
“Cut the boys!” Bill said; suddenly it went up like a war cry; “Cut the boys!”, “Cut the boys!” was the chorus as we worked. Nine of us worked in teams of three while Bill Thompkins stayed mounted in case any tried to run; he’d put away his rifle and held his revolver loosely in his hand as he shouted encouragement – not that we needed it. One after another we threw them down face first in the dirt, one man grabbed each leg and pulled them apart while they lifted them off the up ground so their head dangled down; then the third man did the job. All of them that looked like they could be anywhere near manhood was already dead, every other male down to the babies had been nutted. Bill had shot a couple of the women who tried to stop us but most of them just squatted down and wailed.
I’d cut a lot of bull calves and sheep in my time, but I’d never done it as roughly as we did those Blacks; a man cares if his stock die.
Jack Cunningham was in his fifties, and by far the elder amongst us; as he rubbed sand on his hands to get some of the blood off he nodded toward the little huddle of women; give the boys the first ride” he said simply.
We ran, there was no hesitation amongst us, we ran; each of us seemed to be competing for the best of the bunch. Once we reached them there was no standing on ceremony either; we just grabbed one each and dragged them off. The other Abo women and girls just stayed squatted where they were, rocking back and forth; they really didn’t seem to care what we did to their mothers and sisters and daughters – that’s not really human, is it?
We camped at that waterhole for three days; two more of their men came back with a roo each, so after we shot them we had plenty of fresh meat. A few of the boys we neutered died, but that’s to be expected. Three days of rest with plenty of tucker and women gave us all a good rest before we headed back out onto those cursed plains.
By the time I headed back home after that first droving trip, we’d visited quite a few Abo camps; it was just part of what happened out there – if we didn’t control them who would?
I kept droving till I was twenty-five, then I had enough money to buy this place and marry Mary; I’ll never forget that first trip though – it taught me to be a man.