I little over a year ago I lost my brother Matt
in a helicopter accident. He was helimustering cattle in Western Australia at the time. He died doing what he loved. When the grief was raw and all consuming, I felt compelled to write poetry. As the edge lifted off and I began to sift through the memories of our childhood, I wrote this story.
It's based on several real events combined together into one story. When I think of him as he appears in the story, I think of this photo.
This is what child hood is for me.
It had once been the chook shed, long since vacated by the last chook. In fact my mother had killed the last chook, quite accidentally, throwing a stone at it and knocking it senseless. She had only wanted to shoo it out of the vegetable garden.
We made a bed for Martha in the old chook shed. She was the runt of the litter. A tiny pink bundle of piglet.
She came to live at our place one night in the boot of the Holden, swaddled in a hessian sack like the ones we stored the newly dug potatoes in.
Martha took twilight possession of a bed of chook shed hay, and in the morning we let her out to forage and wander.
She had free reign over the garden, the offal pit and the house paddock.
A random assortment of pet lambs also inhabited the house paddock, but they had no objection to sharing it with Martha.
Martha grew fat and sleek on her diet of household scraps and whatever else she could scrounge.
She became a porcine Labrador, always on the lookout for something edible. She began to forage further and further from the house.
Out the back gate, down the track and over the bridge to the cattle-yards and the woolshed she went.
Sometimes we accompanied her on these expeditions, my mother pushing the pushchair with my little brother inside, my sister and I hanging on tightly to the sides as we we ran down the hill to the yards.
If we hadn't hung on like that the pushchair would have carried on under it's own momentum; my little brother inside it, till it reached the bottom of the hill. Not that he would have minded. He would have hung on for the ride, happily anticipating the crash at the end. The crash was always his favourite part of any game, and all of his games involved spectacular high speed crashes! My dolly's pram became a stock- car, our bikes became unwilling participants in paddock style demolition derbies! Despite howls of protest from my sister and myself, our mother just smiled and soothed us, and sighed inwardly, relieved that he was crashing outside rather than in!
Martha developed a special bond with my little brother. They shared certain personality traits that made them kindred spirits.
That summer you rarely saw them apart. They were always together. A small boy with blond hair, a suntanned face and a scab on his nose; and a diminutive pink pig with large ears.
That summer there wasn't much water in the creek. The rocks were exposed, and it was shallow in parts as it flowed under the wooden bridge by the yards. There were eels in the creek, and occasionally we went eeling in the shadier parts with bait and a gumboot to flick the eels into for safe keeping. Often they just slithered their way back to the creek, but occasionally we got one into the gumboot.
We ate the small chunks of flesh just fried in butter.
My mother had a healthy fear of children drowning, and she passed her warnings onto us.
We knew that a water trough, or even a puddle could be enough water to drown in. The creek was definitely out of bounds without an adult.
But Martha paid no attention to my mother's rules, and had no fear of the creek, or the wooden bridge. Drowning did not concern her.
One particular day that summer, when the air was still and the heat was a visible haze; my little brother went missing.
The back gate swung open, and he was nowhere to be found. My mother was frantic.
She'd looked in all his usual hiding places, checking the offal pit incase he'd fallen in. She'd looked in Martha's chook shed and in the summer house in the garden.
No sign of him anywhere. I knew she would be thinking of the creek, and calculating how long he had been gone. My father was summoned and a small search party set off. They searched the banks of the creek without success.
They crossed the bridge and searched the woolshed and the cattle-yards. Further up the track they began to search the paddock planted out in maize.
The maize was higher than my brother was tall, and it must have been like looking for a needle in a haystack.
What they saw was a broad pink back, cutting a swathe through the middle of the maize paddock. And they knew they had found him. Martha had shepherded him safely across the creek, and was taking her baby sitting duties very seriously.
My father scooped him up and carried him home to the safety of the house paddock and a securely locked gate. He was none the worse for ware except for a newly forming scab across the bridge of his nose.
Martha followed at her own pace. She wandered up to the house about half an hour later; well after all the fuss had died down.
As another summer twilight passed, my mother slipped out to the front porch to select potatoes from the sack full she'd dug that morning.
All that remained were a few withered chunks and a discarded hessian sack.
Martha had taken a detour on her way home to the abandoned chook shed and devoured the lot.
A fair day's pay for a fair day's work!