It was my ambition to capture the look of transparent water where you could see the stones at the base of the shallow stream, after a visit to Porepunkah in south-east Victoria, Australia.
Australian Rural-lit, Historical Fiction
by Ryn Shell
Rural Life, 1960s Style.
For visitors to that town, an unfenced, roadside, grassy-strip without a “Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted” sign and the sound of a running creek just a few yards away, with a perfect log seat, was the perfect invitation to wander over and sit down. I did just that, and got out my sketch book and watercolours to create the on-site studies for the larger. studio completed, painting at the top of this blog post.
It became harder to block the noisy man and that megaphone out. He was shrieking into it.
His screams finally got through my tranquil mood — and at last I heard:
“Girl on the Horse Jump! GET OFF! The horses are coming!"
This blog writer is author and artist Ryn Shell, creator of stories of crime, mystery, suspense, coming-of-age, love and Australia.
Billabong, an excerpt from the novella,
GOLD, by Ryn Shell.
Squatting at the water’s edge, Jane Mutta clasped the sides of her hands together; palms cupped they entered the water. Ripples circled outward; the planes of water reflected Constable Green watching her. She brought her filled hands up to her mouth. As she sipped, her eyes flicked about her.
She loved the Australian bush, although it had shocked her when she’d first seen the dead branches and untidy form of the trees. So different to Scotland—she’d needed to adapt her concept of beauty. Perhaps it was the sense of impending uncertainty and danger that heightened her appreciation of what she now saw as an attractive asymmetry of nature. Delicate patterns of sunlight that filtered through leaves replaced her love of moors and grey misty hillsides of heather.
Her shoulders hunched when the overbearing face of Constable Green came close to hers. He smelt, as he looked, part swine—thickset, squat rotund face. A flabby hand encircled by a greasy, dirt-impregnated cuff, jutted out toward her from his tight, blue uniform sleeve. Shaking her head, Jane refused to accept it; she stood, and hastily put several yards between her and the gregarious man.
A grey-haired gentleman holding a hat trailing silk ribbons approached—Cornelius Hansen—Jane wouldn’t trust him or any other man. Her frozen stare meant to warn the men to keep their distance moved its focus from Constable Green to Cornelius Hansen. Maintaining her glare, Jane moved toward her horse. She’d decided that no male could be trusted even before arriving on the Victorian goldfields.
“Come, dear Jane,” Cornelius said. “Put on your new bonnet and let’s be off.”
“You expect me to wear this?” Jane looked at the flowery thing with disgust. “You may as well send up smoke signals to every bushranger and thief in the area—defenceless woman coming. You can see it for miles.”
“We both know there’s nothing defenceless about you, Miss Mutta.” Cornelius gave her the bonnet when she straddled the horse. “But I expect you to look and act like a lady when you’re in my presence.”
Jane flung the bonnet on the ground and jerked her brown felt hat over her head.
Constable Green snorted. Both Jane and Cornelius shot him disgusted looks.
“I've allowed you to wear a split skirt and ride like a man.” Cornelius straddled his horse and steered it closer to Jane. “Do not test my patience.”
“You’ll allow me nothing.” She shook out the reins and slapped her horse’s rump. The horse bucked, but Jane stayed on. She rode to the head of the line so as to avoid further outburst. The arrangement she had with Cornelius—to be his travelling companion, with a contract to fulfil once they reached Melbourne (to his benefit)—might not be too difficult to go along with—for as long as she could keep him an arm’s length. When she controlled her temper, she could make him see reason.
As they rode, Cornelius and Constable Green discussed the tracks they would take to get to the city of Melbourne without incident, and Jane stewed over how to make a graceful exit—renege on her promise to Cornelius—the second she was safely out of the goldfields.
What with roaming prospectors, or highwaymen they called bushrangers here in the colonies, she did not have much choice but to play along and pretend to have agreed to Cornelius’ proposal.
Through the hot, gold, hush of noon, through murderous afternoon heat, Jane Mutta followed the packhorse. She sweated in the saddle. Longing glances toward shady billabong banks were the only outward signs she gave that her thighs felt as if they’d rubbed raw—she would not slow the gold dealer and his guard down.
Anxiety to place the goldfields and bushranger country behind them was evident in the way both men scanned the surroundings.
“Smoko,” Cornelius called out as the setting sun dipped below the line of river gums.
“Meal break,” the constable said.
Jane rode her horse a short distance from the men so they’d not observe how awkwardly she dismounted. With an effort, she maintained a blank expression on her face. One step at a time. She talked herself through the action of moving her saddle-sore legs forward.
“Don’t stray,” Cornelius yelled.
Jane made it to her intended destination, behind a screen of wattle trees, without the men noticing her distress.
“Don’t go near the billabong,” Constable Green called out.
Ignoring them, Jane removed her clothes and immersed herself in the water. What looked like a branch caught her attention. She turned, preparing to grab and fling it aside as it floated within reach. It wiggled; she saw the snake’s eyes, gave a short cry and heard the men’s laughter.
Turning, she dived for the bank and then scrambled up, grasping her clothes to her body. Her face burned with embarrassment. She didn’t know if they’d only heard her cry or if they were watching.
“Seen a king brown?” Constable Green called out from behind a bush close to where she’d swum. “Those snakes are aggressive buggers.”
Tears that nearly broke free were not from her pain but the frustration. She raged inside that she’d almost cried for a trivial thing, when she’d not even shed tears over her parents’ deaths. She hurriedly dressed and raced back to where Cornelius was cooking.
“Chow is ready.” Cornelius nodded to Jane. “I’ve no intention of training my lovely young charge for housekeeping duties.”
“Serve yourself.” Cornelius called out as Green emerged from the bushes grinning.