Standing alone on the verandah I stare up at the tufts of clouds hanging motionless in a pale blue sky. High above a whistling kite glides effortlessly on a thermal but down here there is nothing, nothing but heat, flies and a pervading sense of desperation.
Across the dirt lies the chicken coop, long abandoned, its rusting wire lying tangled in the weeds. A line of rotted wooden stakes and few tortured vines hint at the existence of a once well-loved vegetable garden.
My gaze is drawn along the dirt road to the shearing shed, its torn iron sheets hanging listless in the midday heat. The stalls, silent and empty, will never again witness the frenzy of the shearing season or the laughter and cursing of the shearers.
Alone in the silence, surrounded by ghosts, I try to imagine that final day. I see a day much like this one, hot, still. On the verandah I see a couple, their faces creased and wearied from the years of battling to scratch a living from this dry land. Their eyes are dull and devoid of hope stare out at the familiar visa. No words are spoken, each absorbed by their own anguish, each recalling their lives here.
His father had worked this land, as had his father before him and his father before that. He had grown up here. He’d played in the chicken coop and tended that vegetable garden. It was here that he learned to ride, to shear, to muster. It was here he had learned right from wrong, about the importance of family, to be a man. Oh, he had left for a while, he had needed to spread his wings, to experience the bright city lights but this dirt, this red dirt ran in his veins and it drew him back, him and his new wife.
Their children were born here, one lies here still, in the family plot on the small rise a mile or so behind the house. This was their home, this was their life and they would hand it down to their children as their forefathers had done before them.
Or at least that was how it was supposed to be. But this is an unforgiving land. The rains didn’t come, stock suffered, prices fell and only thing that grew was their level of debt. They economised, they diversified, they worked harder and each day they prayed for rain. But the prices didn’t rise and the rains didn’t come. Insidiously their despair grew and day by day, week by week it consumed all hope and ate at their souls.
Brushing a fly from my face I wondered what had killed that last flicker of hope. Was there some definitive moment, some final straw that had snuffed it out or had it just faded and died, beaten down by time and circumstance?
Try as I might I couldn’t begin to conceive how heartbreaking it must be to walk away from all you’d worked for, from all your forefathers had worked for, from all your hopes and dreams, to walk away from all you have ever known and loved. And I wonder, as they walked through that homestead gate on that final day, did they stop and turn around for one final look, or did they just keep walking.