Granddad’s Orchard

granddads farm This is another 500 word story I submitted to ABC Open for their 500 words: Endings project.  They say what goes around comes around.

Granddad’s Orchard

I watched as my grandfather carefully cut the apricots in half and set them on wire trays that slid perfectly into the old fridge. He then lit the mound of sulphur and closed the door.

Drying apricots was a summer holiday ritual on his orchard in Victoria’s Goulburn Valley. A little bit of domestic activity amid the steady labours of seasonal workers in the orchard and the bustle of the packing shed.

The orchard sat on the banks of the Goulburn River and granddad had, for several decades after he carefully planted Granny Smith apple and cling peach trees in rows, nurtured the orchard into maturity and today it provided a deeply rooted backdrop to summer holiday fun. The special apricot trees were tucked away behind the packing shed and provided fruit for drying and nanna’s lovingly made jam.

I took delight in being bounced around on the three-point linkage of the old red John Brown tractor as we travelled up and down the green tunnel-like rows of trees. On special occasions, I was even allowed to drive at a crawl in first.

The orchard formed part of my grandfather’s identity; not only to me, but to the neighbouring farmers and the co-op where he sold the bulk of his crop.

*

The following summer the Greyhound bus took me down the Hume Highway to Violet town where granddad met me and we drove to the farm. However, the much-anticipated arrival was not the leafy green rows and seasonal bustle. Instead I was greeted by a landscape of destruction and silence.

Gone were the leafy rows, the small army of seasonal workers and the bustle of the early harvest. Instead it was a scene of death and devastation with uprooted trees pushed into long rows like silvery grey corpses.

No wonder granddad had been quite on the drive back.

A downturn in fruit prices from an oversupply was the reason, he’d said, plus the government was paying him compensation to pull out his trees. As a 12 year old, these were concepts I could not grasp. Instead of pesky clouds Rosella parrots being flushed from the orchard by the scare cannon, granddad, nanna and I watched black clouds of smoke from burning funeral pyres that darkened the sky and our hearts.

*

Forty years on, and it is happening again. The crackling fires from my grandfather’s orchard are being echoed across time with news that up and down the Goulburn Valley, thousand of acres of heart and soul are again wrenched from the ground, heaped and burned. Sadly, once more there is no money in fruit. The supermarkets twist the supply chain and it breaks at the weakest link – the local farm gate.

A glimmer of optimism flickers when I hear on the Country Hour of some innovative souls who rushed through a small first vintage of pear cider from stored fruit. Hope springs eternal.

My childhood Goulburn Valley links are rattled. Can I help slow the carnage? There should be an overseas value-add opportunity for this product. I call some trading company contacts in China. This would be an appreciative market and with a growing middle class, perfectly timed.

Traders in textiles are probably not the best contacts and weeks turn to months with no leads generated. Now, even if a market could be found, would there be enough trees left to supply even a small slice of a giant population?

Or once again will trees one day be planted at the start of another boom and bust cycle….

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Farewell old friend

Just the two of us.

Just the two of us.

This is a 500 word story I submitted to ABC Open for their 500 words: Endings project .  Now, even 20 years after the event I still feel the connection as if it was only yesterday.

Farewell old friend

Three weekends without a single response to my advertisement.

But this morning, several phone calls before 8 o’clock have me scrambling to schedule their arrivals to allow time for an inspection and haggling, though I am fairly sure I will get my price.

She looks good in the sunlight. Her colour suites her and it was that colour that had attracted me to her in the first place. No discrimination here.

The first caller turns up dead on time and walks around her, taking note of her lines, the signs of aging that all old girls get after years of faithful service. Even a few small hints of cancer. I tell him of her faithfulness, of my unwavering trust in her, of her service….

He offers me a price lower than I want, so I say no, that I have three others coming this morning and I am confident I will get my price. As if arranged, the second buyer turns up, early by happen chance, and with a look of surprise the first guy quickly agrees to my price. Guy two is not impressed.

Crisp one hundred dollar bills are counted into my hand and the paperwork duly completed it was with a rising tide of emotion and a tightening chest I watch her as she leaves in a trail of dust as if trying to leave a filament of existence, never to return.

I feel abandoned, naked, as I stand there alone. Gone is my last emblem of freedom, my symbol of a life past, a joint history of adventure, drama and fun. She signified footloose and unrestricted exploration through some of the wildest parts of western and northern Australia bounded by neither time nor obligation.

Together we had been bogged to the axles in the soft sand of Cape Arid, gotten wet together as we forded the mighty rivers of the Kimberly, rattled across corrugations as big as the most severe shopping centre speed bumps till my fillings threatened to fall out and she suffered stress fractures. She had sheltered me during a mini cyclone and I pulled her out (with a little help) when she got stuck in the mud.

She was my symbol of all that and more, an icon of the traveling adventurer that I had clung to. In a way she had helped ward off the haunting memories of those days of driving, camping, fishing and fun.

Those invasive recollections of a year of endless summer were tempered only by the reassurance that she was still there, that I could go whenever I wanted. Together we could again and wend our way through the tracks of near and far. Not now, she is gone.

But life has many different tracks and here I was on a new one, a life where a two seat 4WD Hilux ute has no place in my new urban world of 9-5, car capsules and nappies.

Farewell my old yellow ‘truck’ with your tired canvas canopy that once sheltered all my possessions. Serve another well as you served me, and thanks for the memories.

—–

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Crystal Creek – A short story

 

crystal creek book cover

The hunter becomes the hunted in this adventure short story (3330 words) based on a real location in Australia’s remote Kimberly.

Discover how a fishing trip in one of Australia’s most remote locations turns into a struggle for life.

 

Sampler:

The sun beat down on rocks that reflected the heat. Another bead of sweat formed on the man’s brow and slowly trickled down into his eyes. The burning sting briefly interrupted the throbbing pain coming from his contorted thigh. This pain is only surpassed by the anger he feels for being in this hopeless situation.

——

It was a name that had appealed to him at first. That and the promise of fishing some almost untouched water. Crystal Creek. Clear flowing streams were hard to find in this remote northwest and corner of Australia. Of course the water hadn’t been clear when he arrived. Experience had told him that clear water and mangrove creeks that cycle through big tides don’t go together, especially not this stumpy backwater.

Crystal Creek consisted of a string of soon to shrink freshwater pools above the tidal reach that were the remains of the recent wet season, while the tidal section was a muddy brown watercourse ebbing and flowing between cliffs of jumbled sandstone. The creek was almost strangled at its mouth by dense mangrove stands; it was only big tides that kept it alive.

The man had driven hundreds of kilometers from the nearest town over rough corrugated roads and heavily eroded tracks to this spot, magnificent in its beauty and virginal in its isolation. The tall cane grass that crowded the track as he edged his four-wheel drive along the slippery track has suddenly stopped as he dove onto a rocky plain covered with spinifex grass. Ancient baobab trees and spindly gums struggled for survival in thin sandy soil that covered the sandstone bedrock.

He guessed only a dozen people a year would make it this far, and this year’s bunch was still a few weeks off as they waited for the dry season to become firmly established and the tracks to dry out and rivers to settle properly within their banks. He was keen, however, and had tackled the washed out tracks and tough creek crossings to be the first into this isolated region.

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Marooned – a short story

marooned cover Marooned is a short story (4,900 words) about what happened when a three day ‘Robinson Crusoe’ adventure went awry.

Circumstances means what was to become a pleasurable brief stay on an uninhabited island becomes a challenge of mind and body.

Come and take the journey…

 

 

 

 

Sampler

*1

Several hours drive from the nearest town large enough to have a proper supermarket, the National Park is a popular destination that covers almost a thousand square miles on the mainland and includes almost a dozen small islands. These islands range from tiny specks of rock to mighty islands that in times past have been home to hardy cattlemen who brought their steers to market by barge to the mainland then trucked to the sale yards. Where the barges once landed is now a bustling port servicing a fleet of tourist boats that ply the waters between the islands and to the reef beyond.

I am heading to an island on the smaller end of the scale; an uninhabited one nestling in between its two larger siblings that host resorts catering to people better heeled than me. My island is totally undeveloped and from reports, has barely enough flat ground to pitch a tent, which cannot be much, because my tent is really small.

Not having a girlfriend and with all my friends working, I set off solo several months ago in my old car to explore the coast, sleeping in my small two-man tent. Every day my afternoons and evenings are spent chatting with people at camping grounds and backpackers digs; depending on where I stay, and if staying a few days I team up with them and do some local touristy things. But I am free to choose what I do and when I do it, which is just the way I like it. So when I discovered I could camp on an uninhabited island, the ‘Robinson Crusoe’ awakened in me and I leapt at the chance, paid park camping fees and I am now set for three days and nights of solitude, exploration and adventure.

The sun is shining, as it generally does every day at this time of year and the boat taking me to my island is laden with day-trippers who will tour some of the beautiful inshore islands. Half of the passengers are backpackers and of those, plenty are from Europe. The girls have already stripped down to their bikinis and as they stretch out on the warm deck of the boat to work on their tans, I cannot help but eye their unblemished sun-honeyed skin. I guess it is too late to meet them and try to tempt one to be my ‘Girl Friday’ on the island.

After an hour and a half the boat engine starts to wind down and I tear my eyes away from the girls and drag my thoughts away from the of the sorts of erotic things a young man primed with testosterone daydreams about, and focus back again on the present. My plans for a few days exploring the island are challenged as the island rises before me. It is about half a mile long and with a steep tussock grass covered hill that is like a jagged spine running from end to end. From the water, the hill looks too steep to climb and the beach, or what there is of it at high tide, runs only a hundred yards either side of where the skipper is nosing the boat up to the shore.

I jump down off the bow into warm waist deep water and some of the other passengers then pass my belongings to me and I stack them on the beach. It is not a pleasant sandy beach, but made up of thousands of bits of dead coral tossed up by storm and tide and is painful under my bare feet.

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