The Stockmen of Ferny Downs
By Scott Wilson
Word Count: 980
Patrick flung the well-worn saddle on his stead and leapt onto her back. The word had gone out that Gregory’s prize colt had done a runner and the reward for bringing him back was about a year’s wage for a farmhand. Patrick looked over his shoulder as he rode out, and noticed that the station was a hive of movement, with every able rouseabout and ringer scurrying about to try their hand at bringing back the colt.
Patrick passed a number of noted riders and Bushmen on the old Gunny Track. He recognised most of the stockmen, or at least the brands on the rump of their horses and knew that competition would be tough once all the riders joined the gray. The stockmen from this part of Queensland love hard riding where the wild bush horses are, and even the tough old horses seemed to snuff the chase with delight.
The old man with hair as white as snow led the pack, his horse kicking up the red soil in his wake. There were few stockmen who could ride beside him when his heart was racing and his blood was fairly up. Even at the graceful age of sixty-four, Les showed no sign of slowing down, and he would go wherever horse and man could go.
“Good luck, young Patrick,” Les yelled as Patrick flew past him down the track. Patrick thought he saw the old man wink at him in good nature, or perhaps it had been a fleck of dust in his eye.
Patrick spurred his horse on and sped ahead of the pack before yelled back, “I’ll not be the one needing luck today, old timer.”
As Patrick gained distance from the other riders, he recalled the recent conversation he had overheard about Gregory’s prize colt. He was born of a wild Brumby, with a touch of Timor pony and he was hard, tough, and wiry and shone with courage and nobility in his quick impatient tread. The eyes of the colt bore a bright and fiery drive that Gregory saw where the rest of station owners saw an untamed spirit.
Patrick veered off the path and galloped towards the hills, where the colt’s mother was said to roam. The hills were dangerously steep covered with a blanket of loose flint stones and rubble. The horse's hoofs struck firelight with every stride, threatening to start a bushfire at any moment.
“Hiyah!” Patrick yelled, spurring his horse on when seeing the Brumbies in the gully ahead.
A sharp snap of a stockwhip rang out, echoing in the gully and scaring the wild horses. They charged off up the hills, towards the mountain scrub and softer ground. Patrick saw a horseman at the top of the opposite side of the gully, whip raised high for another herding snap.
“Hiyah!” Patrick yelled again, and spurred his horse on.
The lone horsemen tipped his hat and cracked the whip again. His horse reared up and leapt over the edge of the hill, hurtling down the sharp incline towards the sprinting brumbies. The wild horses fought among each other to reach the top of the gully and away from lone rider.
Patrick reached the ridge moments before the other stockman and gained ground when the other horse slipped as it leapt onto the loose flint stones.
“Whoa, girl,” the lone rider yelled.
Patrick sped along the ridge and closed in on the pack of wild horses. He chanced a glance over his shoulder to see if the other rider was near, and was relieved to see the distance increased between the two as the lone rider steadied his mount.
Echoing along the gully the thunder of the brumbies, tread resounded like a harsh summer storm. A sharp shrill pierced the air as a brumby went down, snapping its leg in a wombat hole. Panic spread among the herd and they began to scatter, no longer following the lead of Gregory’s prize colt. Four scared creatures turned and ran back towards Patrick and the other stockman. Patrick weaved between them and gained on the dwindling mob and Gregory’s colt. As the horses galloped down the hill, they startled the other stockman’s horse. It reared up, tossing its rider under the hooves of the oncoming fillies.
At the top of the hill, Patrick lassoed the prize colt as it slowed before attempting the steep decent down the other side. It bucked furiously, almost pulling Patrick from his saddle.
“Easy boy,” he said soothingly.
The colt settled slightly when a graceful old mare eased up and nuzzled him gently. Patrick saw the kinship in the brumby’s eyes and knew that the mare was this colt’s mother. He hoped off his filly and walked up to the two brumbies slowly. Patrick eased the lasso from Gregory’s colt and patted him lightly.
“Don’t worry boy,” Patrick said. “I won’t take you from your mother. Thousand pounds or not, some things just aren’t worth it.”
Back at station that evening, Patrick listened to tales of how the colt had outrun each team of stockmen, but he knew these were just tall tales. Apart from the lone stockman, who broke his neck in the fall, no others searched Ferny Downs where Patrick let the reward go.
“She’s a beauty, ain’t she?” Les said to Patrick.
Les winked at Patrick.
“Some of God’s creatures should never be bridled up. Especially ones as noble and majestic as that colt and his ma.”
Patrick looked at the old stockman blankly.
“Don’t worry, son. They’re safe in that gully. Too dangerous for most riders.”
Les patted Patrick on the shoulder, winked at him again, and then walked towards the main group of tired and defeated Bushmen.
The Stockmen of Ferny Downs
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