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the big shot

The story is set deep in the mountainous rainforest region in Northern New South Wales during the Second World War. Arthur Hayes, a Gallipoli veteran, was employed by the Department of Agriculture to control cattle tick infestation. Doug (the author) had never attended school on a permanent basis except for correspondence lessons. 

At age 11, Doug met his only childhood peer and companion, a young Aboriginal girl, Veronica. She was the granddaughter of an old Aboriginal couple, Old Harry and Bella, descendants of the Bundulung people. Danny formed a firm bond of friendship with Veronica and learned much from his close association with the family. He was made privy to the seen and unseen of Aboriginal culture, which he respected. 

Veronica attended a primary school in a small town some 50 kilometres away and came to her grandparents for the school holidays. She suffered racial hatred both at school and in the small town and bore the scars of conflict and humiliation in her daily life. She often vented her fury on Doug. This confused the lad for he failed to understand how the colour of one’s skin could instigate hatred. 

The bottom fell from Doug’s world at the untimely death of his father. Doug’s mother and he moved to a small village near the coast where the boy was able to attend a school for the first time. The culture shock was devastating. The sharing and caring he had learned from his Aboriginal friends did not fit the rough-and-tumble, dog-eat-dog culture of his new school peers. This, plus the attitude of an unsympathetic teacher, was too much for the boy, and he ran away and headed back to the bush.

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ISBN: 978-0-6481607-3-1
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 184
Genre: Non Fiction

Cover: Clive Dalkins

Doug Hayes 
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published:  2017
Language: English


     Read a sample:   


My Mercedes makes light work of the dusty gravel road that snakes its way through the settlement of Pretty Gully. In January 1941, my mother and I first made the same journey in a rattly old 1932 Chevy ute which carried our worldly belongings to our new place of abode – a bark and tent shanty which my dear father had lovingly put together to house his little family after securing his first real permanent job since returning from the World War One in 1919.

Easing the Benz to the side of the road, I alight and look out upon the familiar scene that I once loved and cherished. I tread ground that I trod 60 years before, goaded by that relentless passion that takes many people to far-off places – the cherished memories of childhood.

There is virtually nothing left of our home and its surrounds except the bushfire-blackened remains of a stout gatepost from which my father swung a handsome gate. When Dad built something he did it properly, and took great pride in it. I stand for a while on the exact spot where my bedroom was positioned. I close my eyes and try to recreate the vision of Veronica, the young Aboriginal girl as it came to me so long ago.

A few yards away, a rusty piece of iron attracts my attention. A friendly log fire once continuously burned here. I lift the article from the charcoal-encrusted soil to reveal the lid of a cast-iron camp oven in which my mother cooked so many delicious dampers. I feel sorry for anyone who hasn’t tasted hot damper baked in a camp oven and smeared with butter.

The tree under which our shower cubicle stood is now old and gnarled. The limb on which was suspended the shower bucket rotted long ago and the deep mineshaft over which our toilet was erected has caved in and is now no more than a slight depression in the ground.

Moving further down the hill, a mature blackout, a towering giant reaching 30 metres with a girth of three metres, confronts me like a spirit from the past. I, as a tearful little boy, lovingly planted its tiny seedling over the grave of a much-loved fox terrier. The comforting words of my loving father come back to me.

“While ever this tree lives, Mick, our little friend will never be dead!” My father always addressed me as Mick and the nickname stuck for years.

That which moves me most, causing me to choke back the emotional lump in my throat, is a faint outline in the grass skirting Pretty Gully and being swallowed by the blady grass and bracken fern. The remnant of an extremely cleverly engineered project and the object of my boyish fascination – ‘The Race’. The little artificial watercourse that was the life-giving artery of the goldfield. How I would love to once again skip along its bubbling length and experience the joy of being at one with nature, free and uninhibited.

Through the mist of time, I can visualise the form of Old Harry, my old Aboriginal friend and mentor, the last keeper of ‘The Race’. If he materialised now, I am sure I would automatically drop everything, fall into line and blindly follow him.

Since my sad departure from this Garden of Eden in 1943, I have had the advantages of a modern university education, but even that cannot compare with the practical tutelage I received from my Aboriginal friends so long ago. My only regret is that I was much too young to fully comprehend the significance of their teaching, and them as people.

I never regularly attended a primary school for any length of time except for the last three months of 1943, but I’m sure I missed out on nothing. My early education was free of frustration and unrestrained by stringent curricula, as opposed to that of being cooped up in a stuffy classroom and having the three ‘Rs’ drummed into one, often by rote and meaningless metaphor.

The winds of time have engulfed Pretty Gully, as they have changed everything else. No longer is the freedom of the bush open to all. Most of this area has been split up into hobby farms, and the alternate culture now jealously guards its domain and the impromptu visitor is not welcome. Not that I blame the new occupants because the casual visitor can be cruel and destructive on the environment – just as he was 60 years ago and all through our short history.

Amid the heartlessness, brutality and greed of those who would destroy nature arose men like my father who championed the cause of protection and restoration. In those days, conservation, as applied to nature, was not a part of the vocabulary, let alone government policy.

My father was a wonderful man. He was of ordinary bushman stock, and as such was honest and caring. I both loved and respected him, and looking back, every worthwhile thing I have ever accomplished was motivated by his influence.

 Points to note

The Big Shot is a true story based on my life as a child growing up in the bush. The characters were real people but names have been changed to comply with Aboriginal custom which forbids the use of names of the deceased.


Chapter 1 - part sample 

I was a child of the Great Depression, and like thousands of families in those times, we had to be on the move so that Dad could avail himself of the few jobs that were going. Dad was a Gallipoli veteran and was severely gassed on the Western Front in France. He was a member of the Light Horse before the war, and like many other ill-informed souls, answered the call and went to the other side of the world to fight a war without knowing what it was all about. He returned a hero, but the heroism was short lived in a world of “dog eat dog” where all the dogs were hungry.

I was born in 1930 in a humble little slab hut in the bush near a place called Mororo near Lismore in Northern New South Wales.

Mum went into labour with me just before midnight, and it was not a simple birth. Dad rode to our nearest neighbour, a couple of miles away, and the lady came over to assist Mum who by this time had been in labour for quite a few hours. In desperation, she sprinkled some pepper up Mum’s nose to make her sneeze. This action did the trick and after several frantic expulsions, I was delivered into the world. Two days later, a bush nurse came and “tidied things up”.

People weren’t any tougher in those days than they are now, except in bygone years one only heard of the success stories. In the privation of the bush, away from adequate medical facilities, the unborn fetus lived providing nothing went wrong. The lack of adequate post-natal care also claimed the lives of many infants. It was not unusual in those days to record an infant death with the nearest police or Justice of the Peace, then simply inter the little one in a suitable plot near the house. Scattered across the wilderness of the bush, there are many tiny unmarked graves where lie buried the remains of loved infants, at rest with the tears of sorrow and helplessness of those who put them there.

Dad manufactured my first crib from a banana case. My blanket was an ex-Army tunic. These tunics were the regular Army style, with the four large pockets. They were left over from Army supplies, dyed black and were given to recipients of the dole. These were recognised as the badge of the dole man. Dad refused to wear it, and treated it with disdain.

“I wore this bloody thing for four years in defence of this country in the mud and shit of battle. I will not wear it here.”

Dad was not an advocate of war. He had a job driving bullocks and cutting timber logs for a miserable old Scrooge, who not only owned the land where we lived, but also the bullocks, wagon, sawmill and a general store. As a part of the deal for the job, we had to buy our supplies at the store. He used to settle every month, and by coincidence, income would exactly balance expenditure. For three years, Dad worked like a slave for a meagre dole of basic rations. This scanty fare was supplemented by some homegrown vegetables, a few chooks and Dad’s skill as a marksman with a .303 rifle. Kangaroo meat always graced our table.

Few people have a true realisation of how crook things were in the Thirties. I witnessed a constant stream of men – young and old – walking the roads, unable to get work. Single men could not draw the dole for two weeks in succession in the same town. They had to move on to the next. The roads were full of good men, broken in body and spirit; disillusioned men like my father who had fought for a better world – or so he was led to believe. Dad’s greatest sorrow was that he took his revered horse to war and had to shoot it in the desert sands of a foreign country. The authorities would not allow the soldiers to bring their beloved mounts home. Nor were they compensated.

We had a horse and sulky in which we travelled to the little store at Chatsworth Island about 10 kilometres distant, once a week to get supplies. Mum was a good practical woman in the bush and could handle horses with confidence.

The one great disadvantage of living in isolation was loneliness, especially where women were concerned. In those days, large retail businesses in the capital cities printed catalogues of their wares complete with prices. Mum loved getting her hands on such treasures. She would pour over them for hours on end, even though she could never afford the articles advertised.

Other publications offered goods in exchange for labels from certain products such as Bushells Tea, Fountain baking powder and various brands of soap. Mum carefully saved all of these and from time to time was rewarded with tea towels, cutlery and other simple household items through the post.



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