Terry L Probert is a novelist and shortstory writer. His debut novel KUNDELA earned a commendation in the 2013 National Literary Awards.
A member of the Fellowship of Australian Writers, Writers Victoria and SA Writers Terry is active in his local literary community. His Short Story Banib the Bunyip placed second in the City of Melton Short Story Competition 2013.
Spent today in the Orroroo area seeking the location of Les Gillespie's lost gold reef, I thought it may have been somewhere in the ranges of hills between Hammond and Carrieton. A further drive through the Oladdie Gorge and I am no closer to finding it. More work required. I did take some photos to help me with time and place. Take a look at Joe Gillespie's country in winter.
Hereford Cow took an interest in us as I tried to get her picture. House in the background was abandoned in the sixties
Oladdie staging house between Johnburgh and Carrierton.
The small outbuilding in the is built on the same line as the main building, this would have functioned as a hotel, ticket office and homestead in the early days.
Coal gas exploration threatens Joe and Laura's way of life, these are test holes similar to those drilled by RAYDOR Exploration on the properties of Joe's neighbours.
With plenty of good information tucked into notebooks and the computer I need to get down to writing and help Joe find this reef before Charles Winkler does.
went to her again this morning. What should I do I asked? Her back was to me,
and she neither saw, nor heard. Even if she had, she would remain quiet; it has
always been this way. Dew seeped through what remained of the yellow dress that
covered her. Rainbow drops glistened on her exposed ribs, and she rested silent
among the leaf litter. As always, she waited and I let my mind wander.
close my eyes and conjure the same feelings that I experienced the first time I
saw her. Palpitations only an adolescent boy could know, my mouth was dry, and
blood pumped through me like I’d never felt before. She teased me, exposing a
little nakedness as she appeared before our art class. We sat there holding our
breath, tantalised by her form. Even the new chalk sounded delighted, and it squeaked
under Mr Howland’s right hand. He took his time, and this lesson we savoured. First
he traced her outline, and almost to a boy we were agog as he drew the detail.
This has never left me. We were drafting a
Over a few days, sketches morphed from patterns on
the blackboard to bulkhead outlines on marine ply. My father and I would build
her at home. He hoped the canoe would strengthen a bond between brothers
competing for parental attention. A canoe, that has watched without complaint
as I have gone brotherless, from boy to grandfather. Would it be easier for me now
if we had given her a name? We didn’t, she always was, the canoe.
few months before, our small yacht had capsized. My young brother, trapped beneath
the sail, panicked and struggled for air. He was unwilling to sail again. I
told my craft teacher of Dad’s plan to build a canoe for Christmas. Swept along
by my enthusiasm, he agreed to make it a design project for our class.
‘You will help me build it.’ Dad said. ‘Not a word
to your brother now. We’ll make it a surprise.’ Forty two years on, I still
feel the pride those words gave me, yet they conjure sadness too. David never
did work with Dad like this.
The kitchen of our old home became a boathouse.Bulkheads lay beside maple spars on the
work bench. The scent of wood shavings filled the room. Sharpened chisels,
planes and spoke-shaves rested on a shelf above the bench. Wrapped in
yesterday’s news, copper tacks, marine nails and screws waited for their place
in the frame. Clamps held the keel to sawhorses we made from old packing
Our only power tool was a drill Dad bought after
the war, and now he let me use it. I’d earned his trust. Over the next two
weeks we shaped, nailed, screwed and tacked everything into place.
Two coats of blue marine undercoat picked out the
frame. She glistened, the colour matched Dad’s eyes and the shape of her spars
followed the crease of his smile. I can still hear him now, telling me to work
with the grain. I see wood shavings curl, break, and drift to the floor. I
smell the perfume of maple again, and it takes me back to a simpler time.
I stood at the stern, and with Dad at the bow we draped
canvas over the keel. Together we tacked it into place, working from the
centre, taking care to eliminate creases. Folding and stretching it, smooth
canvas cloaked her. Battalions of copper tacks shone against the green of the
fabric. The canvas gave her form, and she giggled as her timbers tensioned as the
first coat of yellow paint dried.
Dad flicked it with his finger. ‘A-flat’ he said.
‘Better try it again after another coat.’ A couple of coats, and the dry paint had
tensioned everything. Her frame no longer twisted and we achieved Dad’s A-sharp.
‘You did well son’ he said and I felt his arm
close on my shoulders. ‘Now, David will have something to keep him out of your
hair these holidays.’
‘Ta’ I said. ‘But, I didn’t do it for David, I did
it for me.’ Sure, the canoe was his and I could use it too, but I’d had three
great weeks working with my father. I learnt from his experience, I discovered
new methods, and I had spent time doing something for my kid brother. I felt
Today I feel different emotions tearing at me. After
a few years we began to get along, gone was the jealousy we had of each other. Unfortunately
we lost David in a car accident before we could exorcise all of our demons. A
heart attack snatched Dad ten years later.
flick at a piece of curling paint from a spar, and run my hand along her
gunnels. I gaze at the curve of her bow, and my mind is back to that first
year, and a soft January evening. I feel salt water drying on my face and lick
my lips to taste it. My mate, Trevor sits in front of me and his paddle dips
with mine. A put-put fishing boat motors ahead of us, her white hull mixes with
reflections of sunset. We are heading east. A cormorant wheels inches above the
water between us. White water churns and boils behind the fishing boat. We make
a race of it now. If we stay to the starboard side, and get onto the boat’s bow
wave, we can surf in to shore. The fishermen urge us on, even though they are unwilling
to slow. Three kilometres from shore now and the tide ebbs, eddies swirl around
each dip of our paddles.
dive for fish scraps in front of us as the fishermen clean their catch. They laugh,
bombarding us with fish guts, we laugh too, but maintain our beat, and we are
gaining on them. Their boat follows the channel; our shallow draft lets us cut
across cockle flats. A blue swimmer crab rears at our shadow. Drenched from
paddling, we level with them now. More cormorants streak from the other side of
the bay, across our bow and to their nests on Shag Island. I am squinting and imagine
their reflections, saltwater burns my eyes, but their calls tell me they’re
there. Trevor is singing a shanty now, it helps keep our rhythm. I start
singing faster, I see his back bend, and his paddle digs deeper.
‘We are on top of the wave now.’ Trevor yells. ‘Let’s
surf it for a while.’
We slow our paddling and glide along, allowing
gravity to hold our speed. I drag my blade and steer the canoe up on the stern wave’s
curl. Closer to the boat now, the wave is higher and the canoe surges.
‘Get away out of it, you, crazy buggers’ One of
the fishermen yells and a fish head bounces off our bow. A gull dives and clips
Trevor, he grabs at his glasses sliding off his nose. We wobble and lose
‘Snooze, you lose.’ The fisherman calls. ‘Race you
Trevor starts the shanty again, and they join in
too. Our paddles slash faster now and we draw ahead, we set our sights on
another boat one hundred metres ahead.
‘This one too?’ I pant between the bars of: Drunken Sailor.
Trevor nods, ramps up the rhythm, and we devour
the glassy surface. Dodging between moored boats we power toward shore, the
canoe bumps on the sand as waves from the ski-boats carry us through the
We slump on our paddles, not moving, waiting to
get our breath back. We had raced several fishing boats home that night, and
our legs wobbled as we carried our craft up the beach. We collapsed on a bank
of seaweed and laughed. Friends joined us, and ribbed our singing.
I touch her again and flinch. The prick of a splinter stings my finger. Is it
her way of telling me she needs care? Should I be angry? No, how can I be angry
with this piece of my past. She holds many fond memories.
The canoe always brought people to David, Dad and
me. She introduced us to people from all over the state. Many paddled her, but
no one mastered her like David or me, her round bottomed hull made sure of
a little longer old girl. I’ll spruce you up nice, and one day you will play
with our grandchildren too.
This is one of the pieces in Toby Farrier I enjoyed writing, it is about halfway into the story and Tracy is confronting her guilt about sending Toby away.
Tracy put a finger to
his lips. ‘You know John Evans came to see me and Darren tonight and he let me
in on what happened just before I dumped all this on you at the hospital. Only
then, did I learn how much stuff you’ve had going on, and I think I’ve been a
bit unfair. For too long Darren and I have tried to put what we did to one side,
not think of how we failed you and we didn’t know how much we need your
forgiveness.’ Tracy felt her tears stream down her cheeks. ‘Everyone sees me as
this hardnosed business woman without feelings, yet every day the little girl
inside me wants to hide until a good fairy comes along and makes everything
right.’ She dug around in her bag and produced a tattered long haul driver’s
log book. ‘This is your dad’s. From the day you left he folded the pages a
different way. Most truckies fold forward but your dad folded them back. You
might wonder why, but I think you’ll find the answer in there somewhere. I know
I did.’ She passed it to him. ‘You know, Sarah, John’s sister, your Mum
Shellie, and me we were all mates, right through school. When Michelle
contracted breast cancer that was the just the pits and we all cried for days.
When we found out she was having you, she was over the moon until they told her
the therapy would harm your chance of survival. Our friend told them she would
go full term and then have the treatment. She was so brave, Toby and so strong
willed, we couldn’t talk her out of it. Maybe you remember the perfume because
she wore it too, we all did. She gave it to us for being her bridesmaids.’
Toby picked up a box of
tissues and passed them to his stepmother.
‘You should hate us for
what we did and yet here you are passing me bloody tissues.’
‘Pop taught me that
holding a grudge is hard work and I reckon he’s right.’ Toby turned away, he
didn’t need tears and if he looked at Tracy he knew they would have the box
empty in a minute. ‘I was angry, and my moods made me quite a handful for a
long time, but he never pressured me. Sure I had to go to a new school, but nobody
there knew how bad I was and some of the kids who were there, were worse. I
soon saw that I was lucky to have someone who loved me unconditionally. I
couldn’t say it like this at the time, but I knew what I wanted to say, I just
couldn’t make out the words. When I looked at what the teachers wrote on the
boards to me it looked like alphabet soup, letters everywhere. Old Charlie got
me sorted. He told Pop he’d heard someone talking about ADHD and disruptive
kids on the radio. One appointment, a couple of hours of watching Shrek and we
walked out with a prescription for new glasses and in a few days I could see
how the letters formed words and even numbers made sense.’
‘Clever old you, eh?’
Tracy tried to hide her guilt by attempting to laugh. ‘There was so much
bitterness between Darren and his Dad, what could we do?’
I'm back to writing Les Gillespies Gold again and thought I would share this exerpt, which I had a lot of fun writing. As with everything, it may not make it into the final draft of the story, but it felt good to write such an exchange. Let me know what you think.
squeezed between him and the table cuddling into him for warmth. ‘Good morning
little one, why are you out of bed?’ Tilly had asked if she could stay with Joe
and Laura overnight. ‘Couldn’t
sleep.’ ‘Hungry?’ Emily shook
her head and stared at the changing sky. ‘Pop, you know how Mum and Jeff are
getting married.’ ‘Yep.’ Joe
said. ‘Why, don’t you want them too?’ ‘It’s not that.
I like Jeff, but do I have to call him Dad?’ ‘Not if you
don’t you want too?’Joe wondered how Emily would take the changes. He would
sooner have Tilly and Jeff answer these questions, but he loved that his
granddaughter could come to him for counsel. ‘What do you want to call him?’ ‘Jeff, it will
seem funny to call him, Dad now, but he’ll be like a dad, won’t he? I just want
to call him, Jeff, like before, that’s all.’ ‘I think he’ll
be fine with that too.’ ‘And do you
think Mum will love him more than me?’ ‘Hmm, what do
you think?’ ‘Well, I don’t
think she will stop loving me, maybe she will love us the same, but different.
You know, she will love him grown up ways.’ ‘Yep, that’s
what I would have said. You are one smart young lady.’ ‘I heard Mum
tell Jeff, that if you said he couldn’t marry her, to tell you, it’s a shottie.
What does that mean?’ Emily screwed her face around, trying to squeeze the same
inflection her mother put into the word she didn’t understand. Joe struggled
to hold his composure, Emily was serious and these were questions, he’d rather
not answer. What would she ask next? ‘How about
some pancakes with whipped butter and maple syrup?’ Joe said. ‘I don’t think
so, not yet anyway.’ She snuggled in, shivered, and dragged his flannel shirt
around her. ‘If mum has a baby, then it will be theirs won’t it, hers and
Jeff’s. Do you think they will love it more than me?’ ‘How could
anybody love anyone, more than your Mum loves you? You should have seen her the
day you came into the world, a little wrinkled up red bundle of arms and legs.
She had a bit of trouble and was in a lot of pain, but the moment you arrived
she was complete. Her world was right again, but you, Emily Beatrice Gillespie,
you screamed the hospital down.’ ‘Did I, did I
cry a lot?’ ‘Cry... I
think they heard you in the next town. You were louder than that old rooster
over there. The hospital told us you had the strongest set of lungs they’d ever
heard.’ He placed a hand on her tummy and tickled her. She writhed and giggled
in time to his touch. ‘You settled down once you had a feed, but boy that day
was special. And well, you let everyone know you had arrived.’ She loved his
storytelling, and he knew a flood of questions would burst from inside her.
‘Was I quiet from then on?’ ‘Only until
you started to talk and we haven’t been able to shut you up since. Just like
now questions, questions, questions.’ He turned away. ‘Look, if they do decide
to have a baby, and who’s to say they will. I reckon there will be more love in
your house, than in any other place in town, in the State, or even the whole of
Australia maybe. Things’ll be fine. Do you reckon you can love Jeff too? What
do you think?’ ‘Yep, if he
doesn’t make Mum sad.’ ‘Do you think
he will?’ ‘Sometimes
she’s cross with him.’ ‘Sometimes
she’s cross with you too, and sometimes Granny’s cross with me. In the end though,
it’s only a little thing and the love is bigger than that. You’ll see, we’ll
all be fine.’ ‘You sure?’ ‘Yep, as sure
as I am that I make better pancakes than Jeff Rankin.’ Joe cuddled her; his big
arms covered her tiny frame. ‘Let’s eat. You can get the butter and syrup out
of the fridge.’ ‘Pop?’ Emily
put the margarine on the table. ‘Yep’ ‘What’s Chanel
No5?’ ‘Why?’ ‘Before we
left the pub, they were whispering, and I heard Mum ask Jeff what pyjamas she
should wear. And he said Chanel No5.’ ‘Come on, I’ll
need some help with the batter.’ Joe said. ‘That’s a question for your