A Changing Land - By Nicole Alexander
To those who have gone before us:
Sarah stared at the headstones, at the ageing monuments silhouetted by the rising moon. The clearing was strangely quiet and she wondered whether the spirits of Wangallon were welcoming her grandfather, Angus, at some other sacred place on the property. Lifting the latch on the peeling wooden gate, she stepped through grass grown long by recent spring rains. Twigs and leaves crackled beneath her, the soft soil creating an imprint of her passing. The familiar pounding of a kangaroo echoed across the narrow stretch of water that formed the twisting Wangallon Creek, and with their movement a flock of lorikeets squawked in a tall gum tree before resettling for the night.
Sarah stopped first by her brother Cameron’s grave, and then at the freshly turned mound that covered her beloved grandfather. For the first time the enormity of his passing settled on her slight shoulders. To have lost him, of all people, was incomprehensible, yet curled about her grief like a shroud was a sense of responsibility almost too great to imagine. She was now the beneficiary of a thirty per cent share in their family property, Wangallon. She was, as her father pointed out, the only legitimate Gordon left, apart from himself; nearly everyone else was buried here within the arms of the property that her great-grandfather, Hamish Gordon, founded in 1858. Sarah looked at the ancient headstones: grandmother, brother, great uncle, wives, young children and Hamish Gordon. He that had amassed what was now one of the largest privately held properties left in north-western New South Wales.
Years ago Sarah had wished for such an opportunity, dreamt of it and could admit to resentment at having been passed over because of a chance of birth. Then Cameron died and Anthony– the hired help as her mother called him – eventually became manager. Now everything was different. As a direct descendent, Sarah knew the fates had anointed her as custodian of Wangallon and she felt ill-prepared for the future. She shook her head, hoping to clear a little of the fatigue and grief that had seeped into her veins over the last week. Soon they would be booking the contractors up for lamb marking, soon they would … but she couldn’t recall what was scheduled next, she was too tired. Leaning against the trunk of a gum tree, Sarah rested her palms on the bark beneath her. Through the canopy of leaves above her, the sky was gun-metal blue. There were few stars, for what elements could compete with the moon that now blanketed her in a mantle of silver.
Anthony’s voice startled her. She’d not heard the Landcruiser approach and was unsure how long she had been weeping beneath the moon’s glow. Anthony took her hand and helped her to her feet, brushing the soil from her clothes.
‘I didn’t want to leave you out here any longer. I know you needed to say goodbye without the hordes that were here earlier but –’
Sarah kissed him on the cheek. ‘It’s okay. I’m okay.’
He looked at her tear-stained face and cocked an eyebrow. ‘You’ve barely slept this last week.’ He knew, for he had laid beside her and floated on the memory of sleep as she tossed and turned through each successive night. ‘You should get some rest.’
Sarah allowed herself to be led from the graveyard, listened as the latch on the small gate clicked shut. Moon shadows followed their progress.
Anthony placed a supportive arm around her slight waist. His girl had lost weight in the week since old Angus’s death. Anthony was worried about her. ‘We need to sit down and work out the management plans for the next twelve to eighteen months. How does that sound?’ Sarah looked at him blankly. ‘We’ve the lambs to mark and …’ He could tell she wasn’t listening; her gaze was fixed somewhere out in the darkness of the countryside. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll handle things until you feel more up to it.’ Leading her around to the passenger-side door, Anthony helped her into her seat. ‘Look, I brought a little friend for you.’
Sarah stroked the shiny fat pup Anthony placed in her lap. It was Bullet, one of the pups by Angus’s dog Shrapnel. She hugged the little dog fiercely. ‘Grandfather wanted this one.’
Reversing the Landcruiser away from the cemetery, Anthony headed in the direction of Wangallon Homestead. ‘He’s yours.’
Sarah rested her hand on Anthony’s thigh.
‘Everything will be fine, Sarah.’ His grip tightened on her fingers.
The words were so