It was the middle of summer and stinking hot during the day. But evenings in the mountains are cool. Mist hangs onto the hills at night, and a sweet dewy breeze blows gently in the early morning.
The first time we rode down to Foxlow Station the fields were gold with the fragrance of new-cut meadow hay. We caught superintendent Vallance napping. We held him up and took all the station money and six packs of groceries and drapery. We helped ourselves to station spirits and gave all a drink in honour of the day.
When we got back to the Jingera a couple of days after Christmas we hosted a meal and dance at one of the high farms. A bullock was killed for the occasion. We invited the locals, including some of the police and magistrates on that side of the range, to come and share the harvest. John O’Connell and Lucy Hurley danced a jig that night and we all sang and danced till morning light. Our generosity was not shared by some – Braidwood police came a couple of days later, like back in the old country, searching the farms for the stolen loot.
They arrested Lucy and some of the local farmers and treated the women roughly, but the magistrates in Braidwood let all bar one of the O’Connells go.
We rode down to Foxlow Station a couple of times after that. We took horses and cattle when we wanted, and drove them up into the Tinderry bad-lands to the south east. But not before we bailed up the superintendent and liberated his gold and cash, tea from China, fine hats, drapery, flour and butter.
Despite the Braidwood police, we would still hold a party a couple of days afterwards, but we were less free with our invitations. Still, it would bring out a fiddle and an Irish song. We would sit around the rough-hewn seats of the cotter and listen to stories or songs. Stories or songs of some romance or some exploit here or back home in the green country – sometimes about us. There would be smiles on the drawn faces of the scratch farmers on that side of the range. The gold would light up the eyes of the local girls and the children would stand rapt, faces stuffed with sugar and cake.
But it got harder and harder each time we came down to Foxlow.
The last time we rode down to Foxlow Station it was raining. We had word the police were there guarding the station in numbers. So we camped in an old hut, high in hills near the Yandyguinula Creek, courtesy of the old woman who lived there, and we watched the station and waited for an opportunity. We brought her real grub – a break from her scant meals of thistle and plover eggs.
The police did not know we were nearby. The bush had been cleared to 1,000 yards of the station buildings, and the police stayed close to the station. We could see there were three police, none of whom appeared to be on guard. One spent a lot of time in one of the huts courting one of the station girls. Another played cards with off-duty hands in the hut next door. The third in the barrack, cooking or getting wood and water. But they kept their repeater rifles close by, and the one in the barracks was colonial born and a fair shot.
We had some friends down in the station. They sent word of what was in the store, and when patrols would be undertaken. They told us of a heated argument between the three police – the colonial took on the others about their regimental sham and carousing. He loudly argued that they should be out chasing us instead. But the police stayed put, and the risks of riding down into the station with them there, even courting or card-playing or cooking, were too high.
So we tried to draw them out. We stole the station owner’s fat horse and some of the police mounts. We got one of the station hands to report the theft, expecting them to race out and off in pursuit. But all they did was move the remaining horses closer and feed them. They were now on the look-out, and a couple more police, including a senior constable, arrived.
So we went back to the old hut, in the rain, blankets still over our heads. We waited but, for days, the police stayed put. News from the station was grim. The police did not trust station hands anymore. The colonial policeman was reposted. The police maintained their regimental sham.
We took what cattle and horses we could manage and headed back to the Tinderry fastness. There was no gold and cash, tea from China, fine hats, drapery, flour and butter the last time we rode down to Foxlow.
|Foxlow Station, late Spring, Foxlow lagoon in mid distance|
> (to be continued)
<Return to the Start of the Story