Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Cockman House, Wanneroo (scene setting)

The following is an excerpt from Lucas's novel "The Population of Loss" - you can hear him read by clicking "open" and then "ok". His novel is currently with the publishers, Penguin Group.

Lucas North
reading part of Howe Hawley's Journey (wait for Firefox's page to load Windows Media Player)

The Population of Loss
by Lucas North: Page 131

In the morning the boys threw their swags over their shoulders and walked the mile or so south along the solid perimetre of the wetlands to Welsh’s Lake. It rained and never let up. Duffy pointed them in the direction of the Parin property on the other side of the lake, south of his place. They trudged past little clots of merino sheep chewing on rich pasture behind houses along Wanneroo Road. The sheep looked miserable with the weight of their wet coats. Izzy kept an eye out for tiger snakes. The swamp tracks guided them south, then heading west, they came upon the improvised stock yards of Beonaddy Paddock.
            Night rain had sluiced the boggy sand to mud trails and the men stood in the water ignoring it with effort.
            ‘Cunt of a day,’ one man told his neighbour, who might have been a statue. The two strangers hitched their swags over their shoulders, making their way through the lines of men and boys, all staring at the odd young duo.
            A trio of aboriginal cattlehands standing by a corral fence stared after them. The boys positioned themselves at a vantage point between the main yard and the tall throng. Howe saw other boys moulded the same as their fathers, jaws set and thrust forward, or enunciating their opinions and profanities in low, burping tones.
            Howe felt the water on the raw welts of his sunburn, his back and arms drawn taut like the skin of a canvas. He stood behind a man yelling abuse at     the apprentice drovers, arriving with the first dozen brumbies in tow. The man’s cropped red hair was spotted like a wild cat’s coat. The veins in his face  erupted and his laugh was insistent, his jaw jutting out like a crow. It was insult, lyrical and wanton, the sound of it saying all that his words could not. The other men sniggered, hedging their bets in a body language that at once approved and reproached.
            Near the large pitched tents, fires burned in brick pits and beneath the tents a dozen or so women and children watched the spectacle, as they sheltered from the wet. A few cars and trucks had parked there, chains and ropes wrapped about the tyres like candy stripes. Men walked about tipping their hats, but whether this was to clear rain from their brims or as gestures of politeness to the observers, Howe could not tell.
      The boys heard snatches of conversation, complaints regarding the weather and assessments of the brumbies. A half dozen men rode in from the north, yelling and mustering a baker’s dozen of all sizes and colours. Somebody called that the action was about to begin. When the horses were corralled,  several men lifted a crude post gate, holding back the circling herd. Inside the  ring lassoes worked two at a time. A big man with a square jaw and a haircut to match slung a rope around his shoulder and stepped through the fences.
           ‘Watch this boys,’ a young fellow next to them said, elbowing Howe. ’Just  you check out the technique Mr. Napier’s got.’
           Immediately he caught an animal and he stepped closer, the horse violently thrashing and bucking its back legs so high that it looked in danger of throwing itself over.
           ‘Good, one, Jack,’ a man in the crowd called.
           Napier held the line taught, and a young horse-breaker, not much older than Howe or Izzy, moved in beside two aboriginal stockmen, towing the line, but the rope slipped its knot.
          Napier scowled at the apprentice. ‘You’re an ankle. That’s two feet under a cunt.’ His face streamed lines of anger and water. A common howl of derision went up through the crowd and it began to rain harder. Howe and Izzy pulled down their hats, hunching their coats about their shoulders. The head man walked up to the horse again and brought it under control. This time his hands led the horse away into the yard adjacent and Napier wound his rope, ready for the next horse. He did this another three times and then said, ‘Right, that’s the worst of ‘em done.’ In the little corral off to the side another trio of men calmed the horses, attempting to mount and break them in.
            All morning the men sucked viciously at their soggy stogies. The boys looked at their energy in the face of rain, a display of manpower against divine will, though none of the smokers would admit to such conceit.
            The crowd yelled and whistled as another herd thundered out of the holding yard and into the breaking pen. Napier and his men called to one another,  sidestepping the brumbies. The shining taut forearms of the men rotating and stretching like cable as their boots danced up eddies in the slop. The horsemen slid behind their charges.
            Napier and Parin roped the horses in pairs, their assistants sprinting into the yard to lead the wrangled horses into the smaller pens. A grey horse and an off-white horse were last of the eight. Napier stood in the centre of the circle, dancing out of the way of the grey horse. He sent the rope swirling at its rump. The loop drifted over the horse and with a movement of his wrist he adjusted it in the air, securing the neck. Applause rang out from the tents, the women and children whistling and clapping. Napier doffed his hat and wiped his face with the kerchief hanging at his throat.
            The off-white horse tugged hard, pulling two men down into the mud. On their hands and knees, their white eyes incandescing through mottled visages. The observers chorused a panicky yell as the brumbies lapped the yard. The mob clapped and roared their demands.
            The white horse went for the fence. It cracked its crown right in the centre and the post caved in. There, a stream of arterial blood began to jet, painting close faces. Their tongues spat the colour to the mud in distaste. In the holding pen the horses panicked, trying to get loose. The crowd standing outside shouted and grabbed a length of jarrah and began to repair the fence. The blood sat brightly in the mud until it burst apart in the stampede and downpour. The men slung tree lines around the white horse, bringing it down, feeble legs splaying out beneath the animal. It collapsed, eyes agog.
          Napier planted a boot heel across the side of its head and a pistol echo cracked, silencing the crowd. The beast shuddered like a steam engine twitching. The other small brumbies whinnied, tossing their heads about.
            The stockman by the name of Parin stepped out of the ring and drank thirstily from a brown long-neck. He drank until the beer was half-empty and then threw it to his partner. Napier drained the contents off, then tossed it over his shoulder, and like at a football match, somebody caught it and the crowd cheered. 
            A young stockman named Ernie Chitty brought the first horse out for sale. A small brumby, white and cream with deep brown patches. A Macedonian family gathered in the pen, a man chattering loudly to his son, taking the rope from Ernie, walked the horse around the perimetre of the yard. By instinct, they moved well together as if rehearsing some arcane and half-recalled routine. Howe believed not all of the stock this day was as wild as the wranglers made out. The old man paid six shillings and threepence for the horse. The Irishmen watching took to mocking the deal, finding their own hidden humour in it all. Napier laughed, mopping his head and swatting flies with the checked red bandana tied around his throat.
            ‘Why’d the koala fall out of the tree?’ he asked the crowd, and their reply came up in chorus: ’Because it was dead!’
            ‘C’mon, lets go get us a ride,’ Howe said, turning to Izzy.       
            Izzy placed one hand on Howe’s shoulder. ‘You mean I can get to pick my own?’
          ‘Of course. Without you, we wouldn’t be doing this. Make sure it’s a good one, ‘cause we’ll not trade up in Perth.’
            ‘Right capital bargain.’ 
           Izzy gravitated to a little chestnut colt already roped in a neighbouring yard. It looked fairly tame.

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Helen Hagemann's first literary collection, Evangelyne & other poems, was published by the Australian Poetry Centre in their New Poets Series 2009. 'of Arc & Shadow' is her second full collection published by Sunline Press. She has two e-books, The Joyous Lake & Par écrit: poetry of the feminine @ http://issuu.com/evangelyne/​​docs/joyous_lake/

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