1976, Banks Family farm, Goulburn, NSW, Australia
Traditional custodians: The Gundungurra People
High in the sky, the October sun beats down over the Banks family farm. The spring breeze washing across the open green paddocks, fighting a losing battle as the Australian summer looms.
Bleating, a flock of sheep trot towards an open gate leading to the paddock adjacent to the shearing shed, their thick merino coats ready for shearing.
Mounted on his horse next to his father, Glenn’s eardrums rattle as Derrick’s voice booms over the paddock.
Nearing 32, Derrick is tall with broad shoulders, short dark brown hair, and a scar across his left cheek. He wears dirty pants with a rolled up long sleeve shirt, a golden cross hangs around his neck and a rifle is slung over his back. His sharp eyes are focused on the back of the flock.
Wiping the sweat from his cheek, Glenn watches as the herd begins filing through the gate. Twelve years old and tall for his age, Glenn works the farm with his father whenever he’s not at school. With summer on its way school would be finished in a few months and Glenn couldn’t wait.
Growing up the family farm had given him an appreciation of life in the country. Whenever he travelled to Sydney with their neighbours and close family friends, the Lamberts, he would miss the wide open spaces and fresh country air. The Lamberts’ son Allan was practically his brother but wasn’t as captivated by country life, instead far more intrigued by the bustle of the city and happenings of politics. Despite these differences they got along like a house on fire, and Glenn was looking forward to the weekly roast their families shared every Sunday.
“Look Back!” Derrick’s yelling pulls Glenn from his trance, looking towards the back of the flock. In the distance two flashes of black and white dart around a wayward sheep, ushering it towards the flock.
Closer now, Glenn watches the border collies Jen and Bel as they slowly stalk the flock.
“You see son, it isn’t a matter of force, we don’t want Jen and Bel rushing the sheep. We provide the path and encourage those who don’t see it.”
Glenn groans, “you’re sounding like Father Mathus, is this a religious thing?”
Derrick chuckles gently, his eyes tracking the sheep as he talks, “No, well at least not intentionally, but we are shepherds, we protect the flock. Not only from predators, but from themselves. If one wanders from the path and into danger we lose a member of our flock, our family.”
“Isn’t that why we have Jen and Bel?” Glenn queried.
“Yes, absolutely,” Derrick confirmed, “they are hard workers and stoic protectors, but it is our responsibility as shepherds to be vigilant, to know when the flock is in danger and don’t forget they may be capable, but we have to protect Jen and Bel too.”
Derrick’s eyes become fixed to something in the distance, “If we let dingos take one of our own, they’ll return in greater numbers. How could we protect our flock?”
Squeezing his legs, Derrick's horse begins trotting towards the paddock gate. Glenn gives his horse a gentle kick, following his father as he responds, “A bigger fence?”
“They will dig beneath it, no.”
Glenn thinks for a moment before asking cautiously, “Kill them?”
Arriving at the gate, Derrick turns his horse, looking back at his son seriously, “Yes, the only way to make sure they don’t come back is to kill them.”
Looking across the last of the flock as it enters the fresh paddock, Derrick dismounts then helps Glenn off his horse before tying them both to the gate post and closing the gate.
Glenn follows his dad as he shuts the gate.
Derrick calls out, “Hold!”
Jen and Bel dart into action, rounding the sheep that had entered the paddock first back towards the gate, keeping the flock together.
Kneeling, Derrick unholsters the rifle from his back, his eyes fixed across the old paddock.
Looking into the distance, Glenn follows his father’s gaze. “Dad what are you-”
Five dingos bound towards them. Teeth bared, growling. Glenn hurries to kneel next to his father.
Derrick bows his head, his thoughts on the past as he speaks, “I’m sorry son but this world is not a good place. Life always involves death, and once you’ve seen what men can do to each other... death can be a mercy.”
One of the dingos barks and Derrick snaps back to reality. In an action practiced a thousand times, he pulls the bolt, loading a round into the chamber with a satisfying click.
Derrick speaks pragmatically as he aims the rifle, “But as a shepherd you must not fear death.”
Pausing he releases his breath, whispering, “You must use it.”
Glenn watches the golden cross around his father’s neck.
The cross remains steady even as the gunshot rings out across the paddock.
Spooked, four dingos flea.
Derrick ejects the bullet case, standing as he returns the rifle over his shoulder. After checking the horses are calm and releasing the flock to roam in their new paddock, he walks into the old paddock intoning to Glenn, “come.”
Unsure, Glenn follows his father. Together they approach the fifth dingo lying on its side, blood oozing from the bullet wound.
Derrick pulls a small sledgehammer from his belt, holding it out for Glenn, “Kill it.”
Cautiously Glenn takes the hammer. Wary of the animal, he kneels at the head of the pining feral dog. Unsure, he turns back to his father.
Seeing the uncertainty in his son’s eyes, Derrick asserts to him, “We protect the flock, Glenn, it is our duty to kill those who would kill us and our family. You can still be merciful, end it quickly, strike the head.”
Glenn turns back to the dingo, looking over its ginger fur that fades into white socks around its feet before turning to the hammer with trepidation. The hammer is old, its rusted metal head has dark patches which Glenn knew were in fact dried blood from previous slaughters.
Derrick speaks softly to his son, “Do not fear, we are right with God. We protect the flock.”
Glenn nods slowly in contemplation, looking down at the dying dog. He’d seen his father slaughter animals like this, but never had he taken a life.
Inhaling, Glenn raises the hammer.
Releasing a primal shout he brings the hammer down on the dingo’s skull, crushing it.
Cantering, Glenn and his father return to the stables. Dismounting outside next to a trough of water, the two horses drink greedily.
Derrick places a hand on Glenn’s shoulder, “You did well today son, are you alright to feed the horses?”
“Thanks dad, yeah,” Glenn nods, smiling.
“Sweep the stables before settling them for the day. Your mother should almost be done with her meeting, but you should pop in and say g’day to Ol’Jimmy before he leaves.”
Glenn nods, not protesting, “sure, no dramas.”
The work is necessary, if it isn’t done today his father would make sure he did twice the work tomorrow once he returned home from school. That wouldn’t be his father being unreasonable, but rather the nature of life. If tasks were neglected they would build and create harder more demanding work down the line. Better to stay on top of things, work hard and enjoy himself once the work was done.
Derrick smiles proudly at his son, “Alright then, see you later digger.”
Glenn smiles to himself, it was in these moments that his father meant the world to him.
Heading into the stable, he looked down at his hands, still red with dingo blood. Despite the harshness of bush life, it was a good life.