Castle Roland

The Odd One Out

by Gary Conder


Chapter 24

Posted: 5 Sep 16

The Odd One Out

Copyright © 2015
by Gary Conder
All Rights Reserved

Odd Man Out Logo

Arriving in Cairns was a relief. On take off Colt had closed his eyes and held his breath, digging his fingers deeply into the seat's armrests as the aircraft shuddered down the runway. Once in the air he relaxed enough to view the country from thirty thousand feet while marvelling at the clouds. It was as if he could reach out and touch or walk upon them. Below the land stretched endlessly like a giant green and brown map. He could see roads and towns and rivers shining back at him in silver ribbons, and places recently in the news for being ravished by bush fires, he once again became a child in wonder.

For Colt Cairns was a new world. Humid, tropical with tall mountains as a back drop, covered with trees that reached for the sky and so close together that it was almost impossible to walk between their massive trunks, with undergrowth smelling of humus leaf litter. Also the fauna was most alien and birdcalls unknown.

Everywhere lush vegetation grew abundantly and scantily dressed people in shorts, long socks to the knees, sleeveless shirts unbuttoned at the neck and hats and all that was only within the precinct of the airport terminal. Colt felt overdressed in his new flannel shirt and jeans. He also felt hot.

The hire car was waiting at the airport and was only a matter of minutes before Colt reached the centre of town. He found Grafton Street with ease and the Coral Reef Inn, having booked two nights before heading into the mountains then west to a place called Georgetown. A dot on the map somewhere out there in the sunburnt country, beyond this coastal paradise, beyond what Colt thought to be civilization.

Once booked in, Colt set out to explore the City. To him it was big and bustling. Full of tourists with their eyes everywhere, their wallets open to purchase that piece of tropical memory. Colt was no different. He felt he must buy something for Charlie and Vail. The search led him to a shop packed with tropical shirts. He chose two with palm trees and while leaving noticed a table stacked with wallets made from crocodile skin. He purchased three.

Colt had never seen the ocean or a beach but knew what they looked like from television, films and books. To actually run his bare toes through sea sand and feel the waves around his ankles was an experience waiting only three streets away. Excited as a child Colt quickly followed the direction suggested by street signage and could see what appeared to be ocean but a short distance ahead.

As the Cairns Esplanade came into view he could see Trinity Bay but on reaching a long retaining wall, was met with a most disappointing surprise, no sand only mud stretching away in both directions with a large sand pit on the foreshore for younger tourists.

"Where's the sand?" Colt asked a passing man who appeared to be a local. One could tell local people from tourists, as they were the ones without a suntan or sunburn. The stranger laughed and responded. "If you want sand you will have to go past the airport to Holloways or one of those northern beaches." So much for tropical paradise and the travel posters Colt thought, remembering those on the Travel Agency's walls back home.

During the following day Colt did take a drive to Holloways Beach and there was sand, beautiful, clean squeaky sand, stretching endlessly to the north and back towards Cairns. It truly was the travel poster's paradise. There were also coconut palms and waves and he did walk in the golden sand, feeling it squelch between his toes, he also felt the cool soothing waves froth around his ankles but no sooner had he done so, a life guard came at pace down the beach.

"If you want to paddle mate do it inside the nets, unless you want to be stung."

Colt looked towards the small square of netting around a tiny portion of ocean before turning back to the handsome life guard with his bulging budgie smugglers and lean swimmer's body, as he pointed towards a sign planted firmly into the sand.

"Sorry mate I didn't realise, "stung by what?" Colt asked, imagining a swarm of angry bees attacking his ankles as he paddled.

"Bloody Stingers mate, Box jellyfish, Chironex Flecken call it what you bloody like but you will know it if you are tangled up in it."

"Oh." Colt expelled without understanding what the young man was talking about.

With his job completed and the beach once more secured, the life guard returned to the head of the beach leaving Colt reading the warning notice standing high above a container of vinegar at its base. "Colt read the sign. 'Beware Stingers and Crocodiles.' Reading further he discovered what the vinegar was for, although he believed that pissing on a sting was usual practice.

Looking out to sea past the empty bathing nets he could clearly see a log in the water, which appeared to be travelling a little too fast to be carried by the tide, while moving parallel to the beach, not towards it. Was it his first Crocodile? He couldn't tell but decided not to take his first dip in the ocean, even within the protection of the nets; at least not there or on that day.

Late that night at the motel Colt was awakened by a horrific sound somewhere outside his room, resembling some woman being strangled. Quickly he drew back the curtains to peer bleary eyed into the empty street but all he could see was a number of cane frogs silently hopping along the footpath and two rather large long legged birds running at top speed along the length of the street. They paused, screamed their haunting wailing call at each other before reversing their run. Their plaintive sound sent shivers through him.

The following morning he was told the birds were Curlews, found everywhere around Cairns but mostly only seen during the night. Yes and unlike the crocs and the stingers were harmless, a most welcome morsel of information.

It was time to leave Cairns behind. Colt had enjoyed his stay, with it heat and leisurely pace but now it was time to travel through the barrier of mountains that stood like sentinels a short distance behind the city. Firstly he followed a wide Crocodile infested tidal river they called the Baron River, then upwards into the cool and dampness of the mountain rain forest. Like most tourists he paused at Kuranda and the falls then onto the flat land leading down to Mareeba, some forty kilometres to the west. He had left Cairns much too late to complete his trip into the Gulf Country that day, so decided to stay the night in Mareeba and head out early the following morning.

The sign on the outskirts of town directed him to Atherton. Colt knew he would have to travel through that town and cross the tablelands bearing the same name to reach Ravenshoe, before heading south west along the so called Gulf Highway to Georgetown.

On the Atherton road he found a motel for the night, with the appropriate bush name of Jackaroo. He booked in before setting out to discover what Mareeba had to offer, finding it to be a large gateway town to the cattle country but little more.

At one time Mareeba had been the rail head for the cattle industry, then a dusty hot existence but now just another southern suburb with tropical lifestyle and vegetation. How truly had the nation become homogenised, one town was like the next, one house like the other, without a hint of individuality and pity he who attempted to do so, on and on hundreds of miles after hundreds.

Colt's exploration took him twice along the main shopping street, of at least a kilometre of outlets, pizza, fish and chips, sandwiches milk bars but not one restaurant. The Graham Hotel had a sandwich board claiming it served counter meals, along with another notation apologising for not being able to supply on that night as the cook fell sick. Eventually he settled for pizza and sat under the trees within the centre strip dividing the lanes of traffic to enjoy his meal.

What surprised him was the number of Aborigines gathered there, mostly argumentative and drunk. Half way through his pizza a skinny half-cast native woman wearing a grubby and torn floral dress, hanging from her black shoulders like a potato sack, approached him. A dirty roll your own smoke protruded from her lips like a dag on a sheep's arse. She coughed and mockingly spoke.

"Hey white boy wanna fuck?" She offered, her face beaming with anticipation. Colt refrained from answering. She spoke again.

"Hey white boy can ya gize uz a coupla dollars." She asked drawing out the word dollars like one would a wad of gum, stretching to almost breaking point. Then she gave a smile, displaying a missing front tooth, the other brown and broken.

"Sorry, I can give you a slice of pizza if you like." Colt offered.

"Aw get fucked ya white shit!" She shouted at Colt and stamped her bare foot down hard on the baked soil under the trees, her voice laced with humorous overtones. Then cackling in a drunken stupa she turned her head towards her mates drinking some distance away, they encouraged her further.

"That's fair enough but the offer for the pizza still stands." Colt answered giving her a sarcastically friendly smile. She returned to her support group and moments later was in a hair tugging brawl with a bigger woman with breasts the size of water melons and an arse like some battle ship. The large women won and there were tears.

The loser departed under a barrage of wolf whistles and hand clapping from the rest of her group until she was at a safe distance, from where she turned and released the foulest mouthful Colt had ever heard. "At least it's entertaining if nothing else." He thought and shook it all away with a grin.

What Colt remembered mostly about Mareeba was the night temperature didn't fluctuate far from that of the day. There wasn't the slightest breeze and by ten the town was dead.

Entertainment for the natives was drinking and fighting along the main street and for the rest, home early to bed. By the time Colt returned to his motel room there wasn't a vehicle on the street. He entered his room and switched on the air-conditioning which remained running throughout the night.

Travelling across the tablelands was vastly different from the terrane leading into Mareeba. Once beyond that town the countryside was green and dotted with sugar cane farms and macadamia plantations, everywhere the soil volcanic and richly red. Once tobacco grew abundantly but since smoking had become ostracized the attention was turning to coffee.

Atherton was cool as he passed through, then higher into rain forested uplands and a more pleasant climate until he reached Ravenshoe. There he left the mountains and the coolness behind travelling into another world, what could be considered another country, vast and empty, only miles of stunted trees and beef cattle, punctuated with red termite mounds and the signs of recent bush fire. Here a station could be the size of a small European country and as unpopulated as the Sahara.

Colt checked his map and the lines representing roads were few, the towns even fewer. A line of a matter of centimetres on the map could convert to a hundred kilometres and the marked distances, only numbers without meaning.

It isn't until one travels through the outback that the traveller realises how vast Australia is. He was travelling on Highway One which came out of Melbourne in a rush of many lanes. It left Sydney much the same and scurried to Brisbane with equal fuss and onwards north to Cairns. Here, west of Cairns, it was a narrow ribbon of tar, barely wide enough for a single car, with gravel and dust on either side. In the wet it was a bog and in the dry bulldust that trapped and held almost as much as the bog.

To pass an oncoming car one had to slow down and move into the gravel but as Colt discovered, the locals didn't bother, they expected the city traveller to move over and as they passed there would be a shower of stones. The Gulf road was colloquially referred to as the Crystal Highway and for good reason but on this trip Colt's hired vehicle kept its windscreen intact.

What he did perceive, although the distance between Cairns and Georgetown was little less than four hundred kilometres, the country mile appeared longer and the going slower. He passed through Mount Garnet at lunch time but didn't stop to enjoy its single roadhouse café's cuisine and through the even smaller town of Mount Surprise later in the afternoon, where he managed a very greasy steak sandwich, with the steak hanging far beyond the roughly hand cut slices of bread, while dripping tomato sauce like a leaky tap but he had to admit it was one of the most tasty sandwiches he had ever encountered.

On reaching Georgetown the light was fading and Colt had travelled for some distance with the sun setting in his eyes. Finding the town's only hotel he took a room for the night.

Georgetown was small, as were all the Gulf towns. The further west one travelled the smaller the towns became and further the distance between them, until eventually you ran out of civilization all together. Maybe the road traveller's version of Magellan falling of the edge of the world but not into space, instead into a dry empty plane of termite mounds.

The hotel's dining area consisted of two tables hidden away in a dark corner of the bar. The meals simple, you could order steak and eggs, steak and chips or if you were inclined and liked your meat, just steak, arriving the size of a dinner plate. Salad was only available when fresh vegetables arrived from the Tableland but one could order tin peas or even soggy tin beans. Colt was fortunate, the hotel's supplies had arrived the previous day, there was salad, or something that represented salad, with wilting lettuce leaves that had given up their best while bouncing about on the back of the dusty mail truck from the rail head at Forsayth.

After his meal Colt partook of a cold beer at the bar with the locals. Six in all and as dusty as the road he had travelled; all thin and toped off with hats that expanded well past their shoulders, making their sun weathered faces appear lost and small under the hat's wide brim. It appeared in these foreign parts, the only time the hat was removed was at bed time and by the apparel's appearance most may have even slept in them.

This was obviously a man's world as the fairer sex was represented by two plump middle aged examples, in sensible dress and shoe, with sweaty hairy armpits, sipping white wine in an area not much larger than an average bathroom, commonly referred to as the ladies lounge, situated well away from the serious conversation in the bar.

Occasionally they would smile towards their menfolk and make jovial comment on the proceedings but never enter into the domain of the common man. The men totally ignored the women while deep in conversation on cattle, the weather and the bloody flies, all the while keeping an eye on the stranger in the bar.

Colt humorously named the two women Millie and Molly, Millie the smaller of the two, had a button nose and piggy eyes but a friendly smile, while Molly contained a much harsher appearance one would expect from years of neglect and toil. Both women, totally void of any form of makeup, had lip hair and white strands on their chins.

The only other representative of the female gender was Rhonda the barmaid and Publican's daughter, who complained constantly how her talents were wasted in such a backwater, while keeping close to the huddle of locals and occasionally casting a hungry eye towards Colt, thinking possibly she had found her escape ticket from an otherwise mundane existence.

Rhonda appeared as a jewel in a sea of heat and dust. Her raven hair, painted lips, and short bright red skirt and tight fitting top, scarcely containing her well endowed breasts, leant more to that of a wayward woman from a James Cagney film, than some backwoods town. Yet there was a simple air of innocence about her. Like a child dressing in her mother's clothing while alone and playing at being grown up.

A clatter behind captured the barmaid's attention as her father returned with a box of long necked bottles to restock the refrigerator. There was a short exchange of words, a parting greeting and the old man took charge as his painted daughter left the bar.

If while in Cairns Colt felt overdressed in his jeans and shirt, now he felt underdressed in shorts and top, as his fellow drinkers were clad in moleskin trousers and shirts buttoned at the neck, with solid riding boots. Eventually curiosity overtook one of the drinkers. He approached.

"G'day young feller, what brings you out this way?" He asked, pushing his beer along the bar top but not approaching closer that masculinity allowed. Colt told the stranger about his brother.

"Young Toby Stanthorpe out at the Home, I know him well." The stranger admitted as he rolled a smoke. The rules of smoking in public places had obviously not yet reached this part of the state, or if they had no one bothered with them.

"You're a city feller eh?" The middle aged Ringer asked, liking the length of the cigarette paper. Twisting its end he placed it in him mouth and lit it. Colt explained he was country and he bred horses.

"Flash place down south eh?" The man suggested, "Know anything about stock horses?" He added. Colt said a little.

"Trouble is mate, it's the bloody motorbikes they're killing the stockman. If you can't ride a flaming bike they don't want you on most stations these days." His eyes narrowed, "and those bloody helicopters." He added adamantly while spitting loose strands of tobacco from his lips. They refused to budge so he removed them with his long, gnarled nicotine stained fingers, topped with broken and dirty nails. Colt sympathised but was more interested in hearing about Toby.

"Your brother has a good job; Ken Gooding is a good boss, he works you flaming hard mind ya but fair and would never ask you to do anything he wouldn't do himself." The stranger admitted.

"By way, the names Bill Worthing," The stranger offered Colt that same gnarled hand with the stained fingers. Colt accepted but thought Russell would be more appropriate as his title.

"I'm going out to Forest Home in the morning and don't really know the way." Colt admitted.

"Easy as piss mate, you follow the Croydon road, it's the only bloody road, for about sixty clicks and there's a sign." Bill Worthing explained.

Bill Worthing's sixty clicks turned out to be at least eighty but there was signage, a large metal sign supporting a painted Brahman bull, some stylised trees and an arrow pointing to an unbitumened side road, reading Forest Home Station 7K.

The road to the homestead was somewhat rudimentary but manageable, with a number of dry creeks and one with a trickle of water. The creek's crossing was a simple log causeway, most probably needing replacement after each year's monsoon. Colt counted the kilometres. Seven then eight, at the ninth the stunted trees gave way to a vast expanse of flat red sun baked paddocks.

Some distance ahead a windmill came into view and a two story building with a white picket fence, there was always a white picket fence, enclosing a number of trees and well attended garden. Colt parked near the gate and was met by two Heeler cattle dogs. They allowed him out of the vehicle, releasing a low unobtrusive growl while following him to the gate and the stairs beyond. At the base of a long flight of stairs he called.

"Hello, anyone home?" Both dogs barked at the sound of his voice and stood sentry a pace behind him. Moments later a woman leaned over the upstairs balcony.

"Young man, are you a travelling salesman?" She asked, shading her eyes from the strong sunlight.

"No my name is Russell Blake." Colt answered, again thinking it more appropriate to introduce himself by his second given name.

"Oh you rang some time back, you're Toby's brother." She paused, "one moment I'll come down."

The woman descended the long wide staircase with its split directional section at its base.

"I'm Val Gooding my husband is the manager; I've spoken to you on the Telephone." The woman declared without offering her hand, while waving away the gathering flies. Colt nodded greeting and accepted Val's invitation to follow along a bricked path to a downstairs entrance. "Come in out of the heat. I suppose you're here to see Toby." She said and showed Colt into the coolness of a huge expanse at one end of the house. The floor was concreted with scatter rugs while cane furnishing was placed in strategic positions to catch any cool breeze that may find its way through the flywire mesh walls.

The room had a homely atmosphere, almost church like giving the impression it would only take a single spoken word to break its ambience. Val's husband Ken was seated in a large cane chair at the far end of the expanse, pondering over the weekly post and didn't appear to notice Colt's arrival. Val spoke.

"Ken dear we have a visitor."

Ken Gooding wasn't a tall man, who like most in that part of the world, was somewhat on the lean side, while dressed in the traditional ubiquitous moleskins, riding boots and long sleave shirt. Being somewhat hipless his moleskins hung low and it was only the beef of his arse cheeks that kept them from descending to the floor. He was a man in his forties with dark thinning hair and a blotchy suntanned complexion.

Ken placed his papers down and stood as Colt approached.

"He is Toby's brother dear." Val introduced as Ken offered his hand.

"Take a seat lad." Ken offered showing Colt to a chair. What was your name again, Russell wasn't it." Ken asked.

"Actually it's Colt, my dad was a horse breeder with a sense of humour." Colt answered.

"So you know horses?" Ken suggested.

"I do some breeding myself and I have a spread down south."

"Yes Toby said you did."

"I'll get cook to make tea." Val suggested and disappeared from the room.

"Call Toby would you love, he's over at the saddle shed." Ken asked. He continued, "what do you prefer Russell or Colt?" Ken asked.

"Either; my friends call me Colt; other's Russell and to confuse the issue some of my family call me East." Colt blushed with embarrassment for disclosing all his names, thinking it sounded somewhat excessive.

"Than Colt it is and it's a certainty Toby is your brother, he's maybe a little shorter than you otherwise you could be twins." Ken shook his head in amazement as Val's voice once again sounded from the back entrance along with that of a male.

"Who wants to see me?" A young man's voice asked inquisitively.

"You will see." Val answered as they both entered into the room. Colt stood as his eyes fell on his brother for the very first time. It was true; a mirror couldn't reflect a more perfect likeness, as booth stood speechless at arms length. Eventually Colt spoke.

"Hello little brother." He greeted and felt somewhat choked by the experience.

"Come on Val leave them alone for a while." Ken suggested and they left the room.

"Colt I don't believe it, what are you doing here?" Toby asked with equally teary eyes. They hugged and sat.

"I've come to see you."

"All this way," Toby said.

"I couldn't wait until Christmas." Colt answered.

"Struth you look like me." Toby exclaimed.

"And you look like me but you could have grown a little more." Colt laughed as he gently placing his hand on his brother's head.

Toby shook his head, "I don't believe it my own brother. I have a real dinky-die brother. How long are you staying?"

The brothers were still on an emotional high as Val returned with tea and fresh scones, followed close behind by her husband.

"I'm not sure but only a day or so." Colt answered.

"You must stay here I'll have the house maid prepare a room." Val offered

"Trouble is I will have to go on a muster the day after tomorrow." Toby advised.

"I couldn't stay much longer than that anyway and you are still coming down at Christmas?" Colt asked.

"Sure am."

"Do you run cattle young fellow?" Ken asked as Val poured the tea.

"I don't but my Grandfather did. My dad just had horses and now I also have horses."

"How many head have you got?"

"I have about forty." Colt answered.

"What size property is it?" Ken asked.

"Sorry only powdered milk." Val apologetically intervened.

"That's alright Val, powdered will do; Ken it's about a hundred and fifty hectares." Colt explained, while Toby sat back amused at what was developing between the two totally different spheres of farming.

"What's a hectare anyway?" Ken asked somewhat amused at the terminology. It was obvious Colt was mentally calculating the mathematics, eventually he answered.

"There are two and a half acres to the hectare, Six hundred and forty acres to the square mile so I assume around two hundred and fifty, maybe two hundred and sixty hectares to the square mile."

"Struth, here we measure the properties in square miles and run about three bullocks to the square mile. This place is somewhere between eleven hundred and fifteen hundred square miles and runs around four thousand head of cattle, also there's a good five hundred or so brumbies roaming around the scrub, as well as a buffalo or two –and one of the men recons he once saw a camel." Ken paused and smiled, "you can come to your own conclusion how many of your hectares that is."

"No Ken, I think I'll give that a miss." Colt admitted.

The following morning both Colt and Toby were up before the sun. Ken Gooding had suggested they take a couple of horses and do some sight seeing around the property, bringing Toby to humour. The homestead was approximately at centre of the station and the boundary was around forty kilometres in any direction, probably even more, as no one had actually measured the distance. It was river banks and lines of hills that marked the boundaries and not fences. Still they could ride the home paddock which was three kilometres to the Gilbert River in one direction and two past a lagoon in the other.

Breakfast was taken with the remaining stockmen in the men's dining room, situated across a long and covered walk way at the rear of the big house. Most of the stockmen were out mustering and Toby with two others would take over when they returned. Colt was offered to join in the muster but his home commitments wouldn't allow it.

The cook was a jolly woman with a mass of curled hair the colour and consistency of steel wool, with a ruddy face and sweat and flour stains everywhere possible, while the house maid, a petite woman with dyed red hair and the work ethic of a Trojan. Kept busy in the laundry or attending to the needs of the main house. How a woman of such slight stature could continue to perform in such heat and conditions was beyond belief but she did and always with a smile. She had admitted to Colt during a rare conversation she, like him, was once from the south but much further south in Victoria and now considered Mareeba to be her home town. She loved the heat and couldn't abide the southern winters.

Being school holidays the house maid, Winifred Smith had her son Lewis up from his boarding school on the tablelands for the duration. He was a skinny kid in his early teens with the gift of the gab, a bag full of questions and a love for horses. Yet still a likeable lad and from first sighting showed more that a little interest in Colt than normal circumstances may expect.

It had been Toby who brought the lad's attention to notice, having to talk to Lewis about giving Colt space. Most of Lewis' interest was sited around Colt's southern pedigree. Lewis like his mother had been born in Melbourne and had wished to travel back there. Even with Colt explaining he wasn't from that area, being closer to Brisbane or Sydney and had never travelled so far south, Lewis continued to pump for information.

Lewis had other interests as well which didn't go unnoticed by Colt. The lad had the makings of turning gay. He may not even have realised it himself, or if it came to that, understood the meaning of being so but the signs were there. His eyes were ever wandering while possessing the need to be close; to be touched. It was as if the lad was attempting to climb under Colt's very skin. As for Lewis' attention, it more amused Colt rather than worried and appeared to go unnoticed by Toby, becoming akin to an annoying tic, an itch he could not scratch.

After breakfast Colt and Toby set out for their ride. Firstly they passed a grave site some short distance from the homestead and Toby related its history. It appeared to have been Christmas Eve in Thirty-seven. It was the young fellow's nineteenth birthday. Evidently he had a few drinks before taking a buggy load of supplies to a sub station, when the horse shied and threw him from the buggy under its wheels. The young man died instantly and was buried at the station.

Some time after the accident the lad's parents visited his grave site, erecting a stone and iron fence around the grave. Now after so many years of neglect, a tree had uprooted the fence, while leaning the stone to a most precarious angle.

Colt dismounted while reading the inscription on the stone, thinking it a sad affair to be buried alone so far from any graveyard and civilization, with only the heat of the day, crows and cattle to pass you by. If the dead had ghosts and ghosts were true, this lad's spirit would be a most lonely spirit. He shook the sadness from his head, sighed and remounted.

At the Gilbert the two tethered their mounts to sit by an elongated billabong, stretching along the homestead side of the wide, dry sandy river bed. Willows grew along the bank where the grass was green from the billabong's permanent moisture. It was like a desert oasis away from the thirsty land and continuing heat.

At the sandy end of the water hole some meter within the dry river bed, Colt noticed something glistering in the sunlight. He retrieved the object. "What's this?" He enquired of Toby.

"It's an agate; the river bed is full of them, they wash down from a place called Agate Pocket on Robyn Hood Station somewhere the other side of Georgetown.

"What like a diamond or ruby or something?" Colt asked.

Toby released a weak laugh, "I wouldn't go that far, semiprecious maybe. For a good one you may get five or ten dollars."

"What about this red one?" Colt asked holding the shiny flat stone up for scrutiny.

"Fifty cents if you're lucky."

Colt gave a disappointing grunt and placed the stone into his pocket.

"Why did dad call you Colt?" Toby asked curiously.

"That's a long story." Colt answered.

"And why Russell and East?"

"Well mum wanted Russell and dad like some book whose hero was called East so I copped a mouth full."

"You are actually christened all those names?" Toby asked.

"Not christened our parents weren't into religion but they are all official and on my birth certificate." Colt answered proudly. "Do you have a second name?" Colt asked.

"Nope, I'm just Toby."

"Is it short for Tobias?" Colt suggested.

"Nope it's just Toby." His brother answered simply.

Colt gave a broad grin as he knew better.

"You do have a second name." Colt disclosed.

"I don't think so."

"You do, I have your birth certificate at home to prove it and your first name is Tobias but I prefer Toby."

"You're having me on." Toby's tone now became most serious.

"Do you want to know what it is?" Colt asked.

"No I'll tell you what, leave it until I visit at Christmas and you can show me the certificate."

"That's fair enough." Colt concluded.

"I often go swimming in here during my day off." Toby said, throwing a stone to skip across the flat surface.

"How deep is it?" Colt asked.

"At this time of the year you can stand in it but there may be a couple of crocs." Toby informed.

"Crocodiles and you swim in it?" Colt gasped, remembering the warning at Holloway's Beach.

"Don't panic, they are only freshies, they only grow a few feet and mostly eat fish and things but if you cornered them, I should think they could give you a nasty bite." Toby paused, "but I haven't seen any in this billabong this year, there is a larger stretch of water further down the river and that has a few, I often go fishing there and sometimes they take my catch."

"I don't think I like that idea, you know up here the place in crawling with things that either want to bite you or eat you." Colt gave a shudder.

"Plenty of snakes as well." Toby warned, "Big buggers and vicious."

"Those as well,"

"Do you want to go for a swim?" Toby suggested.

"If you're game."

Slowly the brothers discarded their clothing. Colt was naked first as he was dressed only in shorts and a top. Moments later they were both naked on the bank of the billabong, Colt released a grin, Toby's dick was almost the same size of his own. Toby turned towards his brother's nakedness.

"Is that where dad got your name?" He laughed.

"As a matter of fact brother it was and if you stayed around most probably we would both received the title."

That night the brothers were invited to dine with Val and Ken at the main house. Colt was interested if they took on inexperienced hands and Ken said that on the occasion they did but it was rare.

"Why do you ask?" Ken enquired.

"There's a young feller back home I'm giving riding lessens and his greatest wish is to be a stockman." Colt explained, thinking of Vail.

"Does he have a motor bicycle licence?" Ken asked.

"No but he is almost a horse whisperer."

"I'm afraid the next generation will all need bike licences, your brother here was hired and trained just in time and he's learning to ride a motor bike at present. I tell you what, if your friend can get a bike licence I'll consider him but it's a hell of a distance for a young fellow to come to work. How old is he?"

"He just turned eighteen." Colt answered.

"I came the same distance and I was still seventeen." Toby argued.

"Too true, so Colt if he has a bike licence and when Toby is down there at Christmas and he thinks the lad is good enough, he can have a job."

It was agreed even without Vail having knowledge, maybe he wouldn't wish to travel such a distance, maybe his dream of becoming a stockman was nothing more than dream. Colt would have to wait until he returned home to discover if Vail's wishes were real or not.

The final morning Colt only had a couple of hours with his brother. Firstly they had breakfast, before helping with the stock horses, preparing them for the muster. He liked the work and thought in a different life he may have taken on station work himself but was now set in his ways and liked his comfort, while crocs, snakes, with spiders and scorpions in one's swag wasn't his choice of lifestyle. Besides there was the continuous never ending heat; either wet heat or dry heat but always heat.

The final hour Colt and Toby took a walk down to the red mud lagoon followed by the housemaid's son Lewis. Half way to the lagoon Toby turned to the lad.

"Hey Lewis," He said somewhat roughly.


"Could you leave us alone for a while?"

"Why?" Lewis softly demanded.

"Come on mate, I'll take you swimming when I get back from the muster." Toby promised.

"Ok then." Lewis slowly turned and marched back to the kitchen.

"Nice kid but," Toby said and lead the way towards the lagoon. They sat themselves on the sun baked red clay some distance from where a bullock had long ago become stranded in the mud and died, now only hide and sun bleached bone remained.

"Does that happen often?" Colt asked pointing towards the carcass.

"What the bullock?"

"Yea, do you lose many?"

"Not really only during the dry when the lagoon becomes a muddy bog, usually we get the truck and pull them out before they get too weak to stand, or fence it off but that one was caught in the night and wasn't seen until the dingos and crows had their fill."

"What about the brumbies, do you break and sell them?" Colt asked, relating Ken Gooding information on how many were on the property.

"Na we shoot the stallions otherwise they clear out with the working mares. They are too hard to break anyway and always retain a vicious streak no matter what you do."

"So you are still coming down at Christmas?" Colt asked.

"I would love to, have you enough room?"

"Room; the bloody house has six bedrooms three bathrooms and all sorts of other rooms. Grandad was crazy about big houses and even wanted to build more. I could turn it into flats."

"Do you miss mum and dad?" Toby asked.

"That is a good question, I never really knew them and like you I was considered a burden to them. If you were the first born I guess our rolls may have been reversed." Colt laughed and continued. "You asked me about the name Colt. Mum said dad only kept me because my dick reminded him of one of his flaming stallions."

They both laughed as Toby became restless. It was almost time for him to leave for the muster.

During their final minutes together Colt felt he must say something about himself and being the odd one out. He didn't wish to but if Toby was to travel such a long distance to visit and find him in bed with Charlie it may be a bigger shock than being told up front.

"I play football you know." Colt declared.

"What position?"

"In the ruck."

"Oh Aussie Rules, they don't play it up here."

"I'm also in the cricket team." Colt added as Toby suggested he should be making tracks.

Colt's running commentary on his sporting ability was designed to make what he was about to disclose appear more manly and less gay.

"I like rugby but have never played." Toby admitted.

"There is something else I should say about myself." Colt's voice softened, laced with an air of guilt, as he felt the tension building deep down in his gut. Toby didn't question.

"I have a friend, a really good friend who plays for the opposing cricket team and he will be living with me." Colt had passed the point of return and had to continue if he wished to do so or not.

"A boarder?" Toby innocently suggested.

"No he and I are; I don't know how to say this without upsetting you."

"Are you trying to tell me the two of you are gay?" Toby asked his face expressionless, while taking slow and thoughtful steps back towards the stock yard.

"I guess that is what I'm saying, I didn't want you to arrive and find out." Colt felt relieved but unsure what would happen next. Toby remained silent for some time and on reaching the gate in the white picket fence he spoke.

"It doesn't really worry me and I respect your decision in telling me and yes I will still visit at Christmas, nothing would prevent that." He paused and turned to hug Colt. "Shit I've just discovered I have a brother, so I don't wish to lose you over something as silly as that."

Colt said his farewell to Toby who again promised he would be down for Christmas and to have plenty of scotch and Christmas pudding on hand.

"I'll call as soon as I return home." Colt promised and watched Toby mount and ride away with the other men, thinking he made such a handsome ringer. Once Toby was out of sight Colt returned to the house to thank his host before heading out. Before leaving Val had the cook prepare sandwiches for the return trip, also supplying an old thermos full of tea.

The return journey was ponderous. Colt hardly viewed the countryside at all. He passed back through Georgetown without thinking of his night at the hotel and the girl with the painted lips but once back on the tableland his mood lightened. Colt began to think of Charlie and Vail and if Vail and Eric were getting on alright.

As for Toby, leaving him was most difficult. Once again he challenged his wisdom, had he done the right thing in telling Toby about his sexuality and his relationship with Charlie. It was true Tody didn't appear worried by it. Still it had been said and could not be unsaid and it would be time that proved its value.

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