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VALLEY OF THE DAMNED

William Conway, an early pioneer cattleman in outback Queensland, Australia, who, while developing his vast cattle station, dies after ignoring warnings from the local Aboriginal witchdoctor or Kadaicha that he and his family are trespassing on sacred Dreamtime land. Conway 's vision of bequeathing his cattle empire to his young son and descendants is then thwarted at every turn.  

The story, set in the northwest of Queensland in the 1880's near the fictional town of Collinstown , portrays the hard life of the early Australian pioneers such as William Conway's, which his wife and small son endure after his death in a tragic 'accident.'   

Over one hundred years later, after succeeding managers and lessees die in various mysterious circumstances, the ghost of William Conway attempts to protect his American grandson from the ancient Aboriginal curse after he arrives in Australia to sell his inherited property. A cattle rancher himself, he decides there’s only one thing to do before he returns to California … but he wasn’t counting on the curse descending on the new owners of Mountain Valley

In Store Price: $AU22.95 
Online Price:   $AU21.95

ISBN: 1-9211-1800-8
Format: A5 Paperback
Number of pages: 197
Genre: Fiction

 

 


Author: Richard Tomkies 
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2005
Language: English

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR  

Former journalist, businessman and entrepreneur, Richard Tomkies has travelled extensively throughout a number of countries, including Canada and the United States of America . He also lived in both of these countries.  

He has spent much of the last thirty-two years in the tropical north of Queensland , Australia , and has visited all the areas mentioned in the book. Now retired, a great deal of his time is spent writing and travelling throughout Queensland, researching material for further books, two of which are due to be released in the near future. 

CHAPTER ONE   (Part Sample)

 

High on the side of a mountain, outside a small cave, Kargaru the Kadaicha, or Aboriginal witchdoctor, sat in his customary cross-legged position under a large overhanging rock. This was his home for a greater part of the year. From here he could look across the sacred valley of the Dreamtime, the ancestral home of the Wollumbimbi tribe.

The hot Australian summer sun beat mercilessly down from a cloudless blue sky. High above, a wedge-tailed eagle soared, its sharp eyes ever on the lookout for its next meal.

A small lizard, its tail flicking languidly, took refuge from the intense heat in the shade of a large rock.

At the sloping base of the high hill stood old and gnarled gum trees, their grey branches reaching tall. Their leaves, which normally provided shelter to myriads of birds, now strangely absent, drooped in the fierce heat.

Nothing stirred; even the cicadas had ceased their constant trilling as though in anticipation of something untoward.

Had he wished, Kargaru could have looked out over the distant plain of tall brown grass, sparsely dotted with eucalypt trees, the land scorched now by the relentless sun. But today his concentration was centred on a small fire that burned at his feet.

The dark, fathomless eyes of the witchdoctor glittered under hooded lids, his creased black face intense as he chanted in a high-pitched monotone. From time to time he sprinkled into the dancing orange flames something from a small animal-skin pouch – immediately the flickering flames changed colour accompanied by a small puff of white smoke.

Picking up a long stick, the old medicine man threw it onto the rocky ground and suddenly the stick was transformed into a venomous snake, its body slithering quickly into the shade of some nearby rocks, to pause momentarily, its beady eyes unblinking as its forked tongue, flicking, tested the air.

With a deft movement, the witchdoctor grabbed the snake behind its head, briefly holding the writhing creature at arm’s length above the fire. He shook it, and instantly the reptile became a stick once more.

The man then pointed towards the blue sky above, his chanting increasing in intensity, while the bone and feather amulet around his thin, wrinkled arm rattled as he shook the stick.

Suddenly, high above, black thunderhead clouds began to form as if by magic, roiling up quickly and growing larger, the ominous grey masses intensifying by the minute. Almost immediately, vivid bolts of lightning began to flicker from the base of the dark clouds.

The valley below had been sacred to the Aborigines of the area for hundreds of years and was their special hunting ground. Kargaru was considered the guardian of the Dreamtime and this particular sacred valley. Believed by the nomadic Aboriginal tribespeople to be endowed with immense supernatural powers, the witchdoctor was held in high esteem.  

The usual summer rains had been late and the parched land was beginning to suffer from the effects of the prolonged drought. However, all of this was secondary to the scrawny and nearly naked man crouched by the small fire. His grey hair was decorated with bird feathers, as was his remarkable footwear – remarkable inasmuch as, being made from feathers as well as hair matted with human blood, they were designed to leave no trace of footprints in the dust and dirt.

Sitting watching the developing storm, Kargaru was remembering a particular vision he had had of white ghost-like people violating his sacred valley. His memory covered aeons of time but nothing like this had occurred before. His rage knew no bounds; he would repel those who dared to trespass on the ancient and forbidden land of the Wollumbimbi people’s ancestors …

A sharp crack from a jagged bolt of lightning preceded an immense clap of thunder, reverberating around the mountain. A sudden gust of wind picked up leaves and dirt from the sunburnt ground and scattered hot ash and sparks from the fire across the rocky terrain, heavy drops of rain beginning to beat down, heralding an imminent and violent downpour.

Suddenly, a black crow flew up from beside the hissing fire, its discordant cawing accompanied by another clap of thunder … Kargaru had mysteriously disappeared … 

*  *  *  *  

The heat from the early morning sun burned relentlessly from the cloudless blue sky, but although it did not have quite the ferocity of the recent tropical North Queensland summer heat, it was sufficient to cause the sweat to run down Bill Conway’s back.

Reining up his black mare, Tuscany , under the scant shade of an ironbark tree, the big, bearded grazier removed his wide-brimmed felt hat and wiped beads of sweat from his face with a sleeved arm.

Bluey, his faithful cattle dog, flopped down in the welcome shade, his tongue lolling to one side, panting heavily in an effort to keep cool.

Leaning over, Bill unclipped a waterbag from his saddle to drink deeply of the cool water before dismounting to pour some into his up-turned hat to offer to the mare, who nuzzled his hand in anticipation and sucked the last available mouthfuls of the precious liquid. He did the same for Bluey, who thirstily lapped it up. Refilling the hat Bill offered it once more to Tuscany – it wasn’t much, but enough until they reached their destination.

The rider and his mount had been travelling some three hours from the Mountain Valley Station homestead. They had another two to go.

Looking about him, Bill swung back into the saddle. He and Tuscany were atop a tree-covered ridge, which towered several hundred feet above the open grassland below. Surveying a small part of his two-hundred-square-mile property, Bill was filled with a sense of pride, for he and his wife Elizabeth had worked hard and suffered many hardships over the last decade to develop this property with its fertile land. The excellent grazing it provided carried a fine but relatively small herd of Hereford cattle.

Ten years out of his thirty-five, he thought. He and Elizabeth still had a long way to go. Now they had a son and heir, William David Jnr, just six months old and growing fast. His hopes for the future were that young William would one day be able to take over this property and develop it even further.

Clucking softly with his tongue, he gently nudged the mare’s flanks with booted heels to which Tuscany responded willingly, setting off at a fast trot, Bill sitting easily in the saddle. Accustomed to riding many miles every day, he held the reins loosely in one hand. The mare was as one with her master and reacted quickly to each and every little knee pressure or softly spoken command. At her heels loped Bluey, easily keeping up with his master and horse.

They were headed for the wide, slow-flowing river that crossed the southern boundary of Mountain Valley Station. Here Bill would camp the night after checking the boundary fence and a small mob of some of his cattle. They never travelled far from water, as there was plenty of good grazing in that area, the new fence forming the perimeter of an approximate five-hundred-acre paddock helped contain a mob of yearlings to this relatively small area.

The recent good season had ensured the yearlings had put on weight. Not that Bill had a close or ready market, but he had heard that beef was fetching a tidy sum further north on the goldfields. However, he’d have to drive his cattle a long way to get them there, and in the early 1880s, that was a dangerous thing to do, since the wild Aborigines who inhabited the region made travelling, alone especially, an extremely hazardous undertaking.

However, he’d had little trouble with the natives in this area. He thought himself lucky that the tribes that dwelt in the land in the region of Mountain Valley had been reasonably friendly.

Maybe, he thought, that had to do with the way he treated them. One or two men, like Murrumba and Jacky, had been persuaded to help him on the station, even though he had had to supply their tribe with beef and a few luxuries like tomahawks, salt and even some tobacco on occasion. Unlike a neighbour, old Tom Jenkins, whose homestead was some 150 miles away and who had had trouble with wild blacks spearing and killing his cattle, Bill had not had any problems with the Aborigines on his land over the last few years. However, he always carried a heavy Snider rifle in its saddle scabbard, and an old percussion cap Colt revolver at his waist. One never knew when a firearm would be needed in this country, even if it were not for protection from hostile Aborigines.

Later that afternoon, after checking on his cattle while they trooped slowly down to the billabong for their evening drink, Bill prepared his camp on a flat and grassy site near the water’s edge, just as he had done on so many previous occasions.

Here the river curved in a wide sweeping bend, the banks lined with graceful weeping ti-trees and paperbark gums. The ti-tree fronds trailed in the deep dark water. This was the home to several species of good eating fish, like the popular yellowbelly, and the shy black bream. A meal of either always made a welcome change to the traditional diet of salted beef.

Bill gathered some dry firewood for his campfire after hobbling Tuscany , who then wandered off to graze on the long grass, lush after several months of summer rains.

In no time he had the fire going and, wandering down to the river’s edge just a few feet away, he filled his well-used and blackened billycan to hang over the flames.

While waiting for the water to boil to make his brew of tea, Bill spent some time throwing a baited hook and line into the nearby deep billabong, or water-hole. It was a good way to spend a few quiet minutes before having a meal, he thought. He usually got lucky with a decent catch of fish, and this time was no exception; within a few minutes he’d caught a number of pan-sized black bream. One or two, he considered, were big enough to take home on the morrow after first salting them well.

Finishing his meal of fried fish and damper, Bill settled back on his bed-roll to enjoy a freshly brewed, black billy tea from his favourite but battered enamelled mug. Reaching into a pocket, he pulled out a well-worn tobacco pouch into which he placed the bowl of his beloved briar pipe. Filling it with the dark and aromatic contents, he tamped down the shredded tobacco dexterously with a work-callused index finger before lighting it with a burning twig from the fire. Giving it a couple of good puffs, he glanced at the pipe, and, satisfied it was burning properly, gave a contented grunt and settled back. He clasped his hands behind his head and leaned back against a paperbark tree to watch the last of the setting sun’s rays set fire to the western sky, filling it with streaks of red, gold and yellow, promising another fine March day on the morrow, while his thoughts turned towards his home and his wife and young son.  

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