|S E Jenkins||
A PLACE LIKE JARRAHLONG
Extract from CHAPTER 4.
Jon Cadwallader realises that he will have to act quickly if he is to protect a sacred Aboriginal site in Paradise Canyon.
Jon missed the film show and ending up in The Grand drinking in the bar with Greg, Chips and Maurice Cato.
Greg, in ebullient mood, clapped him on the back and bought him a beer.
Jon found Greg’s jauntiness irritating but masked his impatience; he needed to find out what Chips was up to, what his plans were. At least Chips wasn’t as drunk as he had been the first time he’d seen him, and he looked smarter, he’d had a haircut and his clothes were cleaner. Perhaps he was still at the stage where he wanted to impress. Maybe he had changed, slowed down on the boozing, got himself together.
Greg introduced them.
Chips nodded an acknowledgement, pulled out a packet of cigarettes, selected one, lit it and frowned. ‘We’ve met before, haven’t we?’
‘That’s right.’ There was no point in lying about it, Chips would remember eventually anyway. ‘You’ve extending your search then?’
Greg looked at Jon sharply. ‘You didn’t tell me you already knew about the gold reef,’ he said in a clipped tone.
‘You know damn well you didn’t, so when did you hear about it?’
‘Chips told me a few months ago, when I was in Leonora.’
‘What were you doing in Leonora, selling off gold from your lease?’ sneered Greg.
Chips’s eyes narrowed against the smoke. ‘I thought you said you were a jackaroo?’
Jon ignored the arctic tone. ‘I am.’
Chips indicated in Greg’s direction. ‘What’s he on about?’
‘An old prospector left him his mineral lease over at Yaringa Creek,’ interrupted Greg. ‘Jon’s been there ever since…when he’s not at Jarrahlong helping me out.’
Jon let the last part of the statement pass and took his time taking a long draught of beer, aware that Chips was watching him.
‘Much gold there?’ Chips asked eventually.
‘Not that I’ve found, and Stan Colley didn’t find much either, spent thirty years looking and never found a reef, only a bit of alluvial gold, enough to keep him in tinned dog and rum.’
‘Why are you living out there then?’
‘I see enough of Greg as it is.’ Jon took another pull of beer conscious of Chips, iceberg cold and about as friendly. The bloke wasn’t satisfied.
Chips leaned back in his chair and fixed gimlet eyes on him. ‘Where is this mine?’
‘Out on the Pilkington road a few miles beyond the Jarrahlong turn-off,’ volunteered Greg. ‘He spends more time there than he does doing his job.’
‘Yaringa’s an outstation and when I’m working for Alice, I work,’ said Jon, knowing Greg would rise to the bait. ‘Not like some I know.’
‘Are you referring to me?’ snarled Greg.
‘Who do you think? You spend more time in the bar and down the two-up than you do on the station.’
‘It’s my money.’
‘Is it? As I see it you’re short-changing Alice.’
Greg’s chair crashed to the floor and he leaned over the table, his eyes glittering with menace. ‘Take that back or I’ll thrash you.’
Jon glared back, refusing to back down. ‘You can try.’
Chips drew on his cigarette and then exhaled slowly. ‘I see you two don’t like each other.’
‘Can’t stand the bastard,’ Greg picked up the chair and flopped onto it, ‘never have.’
Satisfied, Chips turned back to his beer.
‘I’d have thought you two would’ve got along better, being cousins,’ commented Cato.
‘What the hell are you talking about?’ shouted Greg, bristling like a cornered boar.
Jon kept his face bland and unreadable. Trust Cato to put his bloody foot in it! He’d never liked the bank manager, he was too smarmy by half; he even looked smarmy with his Vaselined hair and sweaty hands.
Cato’s voice faltered. ‘You know?’
‘Jon is Alice’s nephew.’ He corrected himself, ‘Great-nephew.’
Greg slammed his glass down on the table. ‘Since when?’
Cato licked his lips and glanced from Jon to Greg and back to Jon again. ‘Tell him, tell him you’re a Macarthur.’
‘He damn well isn’t.’ Greg’s voice was ice. ‘He’s no bloody relation.’
Chips sat back in his seat and smiled at the fresh row that was brewing. Cato shrank back into his. Greg leaned across the table, his jaw thrust forward, challenging Jon to explain himself.
‘Greg’s right. Alice took me in when I ran away from Karundah Orphanage. And when people asked questions she told them I was her great-nephew. Then, later, when I wanted to go back to England to find my sister I didn’t have a birth certificate to get a passport so she gave me her son’s, and got a mate to ‘doctor’ it so it looked like mine.’
‘You’re a liar. Alice wouldn’t take in a runaway kid.’ said Greg.
‘You’re wrong, Greg. She was short of stockmen, half the blacks had gone walkabout and she was in the middle of a drought. She needed men to move the sheep, and I turned up.’
‘She was a desperate woman. She’d have taken on the Devil himself to save her Merinos. You ever seen sheep dying, belly deep in stinking mud, their eyes pecked out by crows?’
Cato looked at him, and then at Greg, expectantly. Jon finished his beer, waiting for Greg’s reply. He avoided looking at Chips and kept his hands relaxed on the table.
Greg scowled. ‘I still think you’re lying, I reckon you saw your chance, a gaga old woman living alone. I bet you thought you’d got it made.’
Jon laughed. ‘Her sheep dropping like flies, no stockmen to speak of, I was fifteen for God’s sake and a runaway. And Alice isn’t gaga.’
Cato looked briefly at Greg and then turned to Jon. ‘What is your name if it isn’t Macarthur?’
Chips stubbed out his cigarette. ‘No plane wreckage in that valley of yours, I suppose?’
‘No. I told you, I haven’t come across anything like that; it’s not exactly easy to miss a wrecked plane, is it?’
‘He’s right,’ said Greg, ‘and there’s no wreckage on Jarrahlong Station either, I’d have found it by now if there was. And there’s none on Jindalee, at least not on the Yaringa Creek side of the station.’
Jon kept his face deadpan. Greg didn’t know what he was talking about, he didn’t know Jarrahlong and Jindalee like he did, he didn’t know the secret places like the green pool and the other hidden-away places like Galston Gorge, even so, Greg was right about the wreckage, the remains of Chips’s plane wasn’t on Jarrahlong, or Jindalee. ‘You’re welcome to check it out for yourself, any time, but there’s no plane.’
‘And no gold either,’ Greg sneered. ‘If there was he wouldn’t be spending so much time at Jarrahlong under my feet…or driving a clapped-out utility.’
Jon ignored the jibes. ‘What are your plans, Chips?’
‘Start a proper aerial search, find the plane, mine the gold.’
‘It can’t be cheap keeping a plane in the air,’ commented Jon.
‘That’s why I’m forming a company. Greg here is going to invest.’ He nodded in Cato’s direction, ‘And Maurice…he’s keen. When we find the gold we’ll all be wealthy, you interested?’
Jon shook his head conscious of Greg’s relief. ‘No, thanks. Nice of you to ask but I don’t have any spare cash, I barely have enough to keep my ute on the road.’ He finished his drink. ‘I think I’ll call it a day. It’s a long drive back to my place.’
He flapped a farewell hand in their direction and towards Connie, whistled his dogs and headed out to his truck, his mind in turmoil as he turned over the engine and felt it catch. If Cato and Greg were putting money up it meant Chips would be able to spend more time flying, which meant that sometime he was going to find Paradise Canyon with the wreckage and the gold. And while the great gash in the Ranges was only one of several in the ironstone plateau there was no guarantee that Chips wouldn’t favour the right one for a thorough search. He couldn’t risk it, he was going to have to go out there and do something about the plane.
He shivered at the thought of facing the demons the place held for him; this time he didn’t want to go there alone. He’d ask Bindi if she would go with him just as soon as he’d back-filled the entrance to the lightning-strike cavern in No Hope Mine, just in case Chips decided to have a look around while he was away.