Bob, a stockman, brought Betsy to Delatite station six years ago as his thirteen-year-old bride. Betsy’s growing worries about Bob’s drinking are shared by the station manager, Macartney, who has told Betsy:
‘I need you to get your husband in hand, get him working again. I want to see him, sober and attentive, at the muster tomorrow. Otherwise …’


The bustle is at fever pitch when I hurry through the kitchen door. I help to fill pies, draw hot tins of bread from the range, slice meats and cut up vegetables while jugs of water, wicker baskets of bread and small sacks of tea are loaded into a cart standing outside the door. And all the time I’m tracking Bob in my mind, hoping to God he’s where he’s supposed to be.
Emily brings a hungrily wailing Thomas to the house early, so I’m free to go with the cart to feed the stockmen their dinner. I sway against the driver, trying to make it all the same as the other years, to be again as excited as a five-year-old off to a picnic. Except the morning’s scene plays in my head and I’m full of biting worry about whether Bob will be there, with the others.
The cart bounces across the paddocks before climbing a steady slope to the ridge. Well before we top the mound I can see the rising dust, smell the heavy scent of herded cattle and hear the thundering rumble of stamping beasts and shouting men on the far side. At the crest, the driver hauls the horse to a stop by the stockmen’s camp.
I stay in my seat, hand to my forehead, combing the chaos for sight of Bob. Stockmen pirouette around the edges of the mob, darting in and out with whips cracking, hustling strays back into the herd. The cacophony lifts with the dust, the whooping of the men shrill above the deep rumbling of the pressing cattle. And over all, the hot odour of cattle and men and horses drenches the air. And – relief makes me dizzy –  there’s Bob, at the edge of the melee. I can tell his tall, lithe frame from the others at any distance. I glance at Macartney, who’s also on the ridge. He sees me and I tilt my head towards Bob.
Macartney gives me a swift acknowledgement, and snaps his attention back to the scene below when a strident bellowing thunders above the tumult. I halt, halfway off the cart, and also search for the animal which has made that furious noise.
It comes again, and I see it.
‘What’s the idiot doing?’ Macartney yells.
My hand flies to my mouth.
Bob lurches in the saddle, wheeling his horse in abrupt circles, right in the path of a bull which has drawn apart from the herd. The bull tosses its massive head and locks its eyes on this obstacle to its escape.
‘Jesus!’ Macartney hisses.
Bob is struggling to stay upright on his panicked horse, which wheels again, goading the bull further. The mighty beast lowers its full horns and paws the ground.
Dear Lord, no.
I’m aware of Macartney, unmoving as ice, staring at the scene through slitted eyes.
Bob grabs at the rifle across his saddle and spurs his horse to a gallop to escape the intent brute. The horse is terrified, unnerved. It rears, bucks, and tosses Bob to the dirt like an empty wheat sack – into the path of the rushing bull.
I can’t breathe.
Bob rolls to his knees and sweeps the rifle up towards the charging bull.
My heart stops.
The blast thuds into the hot air, tangling with the bull’s outraged bellow to be heard above all other noise.
Bob stands, gazing down at the beast’s sweating, heaving flanks, at the blood pooling on the earth. He’s swaying, the rifle hanging loose at his side. A stockman gallops up, swings from his horse and shoots the bull between the eyes.
My heart restarts and my eyes blur, watching Bob stumble to his uninjured horse and clamber up as if he’s never been on horseback before. He trots raggedly back to the herd. My gaze follows his dust-smothered back.
Macartney mutters, ‘Chenery’s prize bull.’
The words fall on my hot ears like the waves of the storm slapped to the deck of the Canterbury on our eternal journey across the southern oceans – heavy with foreboding.
Even if I dared, I can’t look at Macartney because he’s turned his mare and is cantering back down the ridge.