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Archive for May, 2016

No Place for a Woman

Slab hut 1

Marie sat alone. Finishing her evening meal she relaxed on her veranda, gazing at the sun—a rim of orange over darkening hills. Her two little girls, a toddler and a three year old, had just been fed and put to bed. Like their mother they were slender with an abundance of curly brown hair. Duke, her large guard dog, rested on his mat inside the door as Marie spoke quietly to him. ‘Jack should be coming home any day now, Duke. We all miss him so much since he left to go droving. If only two years of drought hadn’t finished us off, he’d be here now. Sometimes I worry about staying alone in this place, no-one else closer to us than the nearest station, a day’s walk from here. Soon it will be getting dark.’

Marie always enjoyed the lingering warmth of the early evening, the peace of her surroundings and the sound of birds singing before they settled for the night. As she sat near her door enjoying Duke’s company, the dog suddenly grew restless. He became tense and his ears pricked up. Marie saw nothing to excite him so she quieted Duke with a ‘Shh now,’ and an upraised hand. Only a moment later did she see the moving shadow of a man coming around the corner of the slab hut. Quickly she rose to face him at the door.

‘I’m hungry. Have you got a feed for a traveller?’ The stranger was filthy and had the strong smell of unwashed clothes about him. ‘He must have been living rough on the roads for a long time,’ she thought. His beard and matted hair looked unkempt, but his eyes worried her most – so hard and cruel. Before he could cross the threshold Marie raised her voice.

‘Don’t come in! Sit on the bottom step and I’ll bring something out to you.’ She waited until he sat down, never taking her eyes off the stranger. Quickly she filled Jack’s bowl from the cooking pot, picked up a spoon and carried it to him. He looked over the cottage, watching her with cold, shifty eyes as he gulped down his meal. Then he set the bowl down without thanks or an offer to hand it back.

‘Looks like there’s no man about the place so I’ve decided to spend the night here.’ He challenged her with a smirk on his face as he stood up. Marie ducked quickly back inside, whistled to Duke and picked up a heavy wooden club next to the front door. Holding Duke’s collar she tugged it twice as she faced the stranger. Right on cue, Duke snarled and bared his teeth as Marie raised the club.

‘Get out now before I set the dog on you. And don’t you come back here!’ Duke began to bark savagely. The stranger turned and moved quickly away from the cottage. Then he called out to her, ‘I’m not finished here yet.’ Marie closed and barred the door. Trembling she sat down inside with Duke. He placed his head on her lap as she put her arms around him. ‘Good dog. Whatever would I do without you, my big, strong Duke?’

‘I’m sitting up tonight and I want you to stay inside with me. That man might come back later and try to ambush us.’ Duke took his place on the mat as Marie went to the mantle. A shotgun lay along its top. Jack left the gun with her and she knew how to use it. Marie loaded two cartridges, placing her chair in full view of the door with the shotgun on the floor before her. ‘Duke, I’m not a straight shot over a distance, but up close I never miss. If he does come back and tries to get inside, I’ll wait until I see him first, then I’ll pull the trigger. I’m taking no chances as I must protect the girls.’ As darkness was now upon them, Marie lit a tall candle. Then she and Duke settled down for the night.

Hours passed as she dozed fitfully on and off. Twice she got up to check on her daughters, then came back to sit upright in her chair again. Just after midnight Duke suddenly jerked up, fully alert, his ears raised. Marie also awoke quickly. There it was, the sound of footsteps moving slowly and deliberately on the pathway. Her body grew tense as the footsteps drew closer to the corner of the slab hut. A full moon shone brightly outside so Mary could just make out a dark shape as it passed by a thin open chink in the log walls. ‘It must be the stranger coming back again. He could have a weapon, Duke,’ she whispered. Marie picked up the shot gun, her finger on the trigger, the barrel cradled in her left hand. Tensely she waited as the footsteps moved nearer and approached the cottage door. ‘Steady, Duke. Don’t move until I signal.’

Just then a familiar voice called out, ‘Marie, it’s me, Jack! I’ve been walking all day. Unbar the door and let me in.’
‘Jack, I’m coming!’ Rushing toward the door with Duke barking for joy at her heels, Marie’s arms enfolded him and drew him across the threshold. Relief engulfed her as she cried out, ‘Thank heaven you’re home safely with us at last.’ Only when he held her close to him again, did she feel safe enough to break into a flood of tears.

© Mary Mageau

I hope you enjoyed this short story. I’ll be offline for several weeks and my next post will arrive on June 19th.

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Corn_field ripening

Fields of ripening corn
stretch into the far horizon.
Time stands still
in this warm Indian Summer.

Colorful-Sunset-Over-Wheat-Field-incredible-awesome-beautiful-hd-high-quality-nature-desktop-background-hd-wallpapers-ofsunset-field-free-download

As light softens and fades
the sky fills with crimson and gold.
Another day ends
to find us homeward bound.

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Bush landscape

A two lane road stretches ahead, more than 526 kilometres long, with only 2 comfort stops and hot food to be found between Port Augusta and Coober Pedy—the opal mining centre of Australia. Empty fields of red, orange, and reddish brown soil are occasionally dotted with tufts of spinnifex grass and the ever present salt bush. Our timing was right on cue as we caught the salt bush in bloom, covered with myriads of tiny white flowers. Its sage green is now dusted with splashes of silver as the salt bush is bathed in sunlight. The colours here are intense. We are immersed in total silence.

Salt bush

Occasionally short, stubby acacia trees reach their maximum height of 3 metres. In this primal bushland when a tree loses its leaves, only the desiccated trunk and branches remain. These ghostly sentinels silently guard the vast, barren landscape until they collapse to litter the area. Underground water can also seep up to form a pond or small lake that evaporates quickly and becomes caked with salt crystals. Everything lies baking in the sun.

Dead trees and saltbush

Does this seem too monotonous to find enjoyable? When we leave the car for a leg stretch or a photograph, to tread upon the rocks and bones of this land, we are transported back to the beginning of time. Under a mesmerizingly beautiful and austere landscape that weaves its spell to draw us in, we understand we are intruders in this very ancient country on our earth.

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Entrance to the Arid Lands Botanic Garden

In a dry, dusty corner of the Australian outback, where the yearly rainfall never exceeds 10 inches, an amazing garden is found. On the outskirts of South Australia’s Port Augusta, a determined group of volunteers established the Australian Arid Lands Botanic Garden in 1993. Designed by landscape architect, Grant Henderson, and set against the stunning backdrop of the Flinders Ranges, this 250 hectare garden features highly evolved plant communities—both fragile and complex—that are found nowhere else on earth.

Arid Land Plants

In addition to tough native grasses and stubby acacia trees, an AridSmart range of colourful and fragrant plants was sourced from Australia’s dry and most remote regions. Selected for their beauty, vigour and toughness, the AridSmart plants decorate the gardens and are sold to those who wish to plant a waterwise garden of their own.

AridSmart_Garden_page

Soak up the sounds and scents of Australia’s arid heart as you explore this unique plant collection – one that offers a haven to over 150 bird species. Browse a great gift shop and enjoy the views from the licensed garden cafe with coffee, or a glass of chilled wine with bush flavoured food. Open 7 days with free admission you can purchase plants here,  conduct research, or just immerse yourself in Australia’s fascinating arid zone.

 Coffee at the visitor's centre

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