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Kunama 1960

Literary Contributions / Dust

All people, some time in their life, witness important, historic or magnificent events, but I can say I never want to witness one particular incident again, which occurred when I was ten years old.

My father owned a cattle station, west of Alice Springs, which consisted of seventy thousand square miles running twenty thousand head of cattle and two hundred horses. Employed on the station were fifteen aboriginal stockmen, who lived about a mile from the homestead in small houses with their families.

The incident was the gradual crumbling of our cattle station until only the homestead stood, the only silent, ghostly monument of a once flourishing and happy home and station, "Moorna."

In the winter of nineteen fifty-three we suspected trouble when the annual winter rainfall did not arrive. The station was well supplied with bores but we would be forced to economise with the water to keep the stock in good condition until further rain fell.

Winter passed into spring with vegetation appearing slowly and the aboriginal stockmen, after mustering, reported that the bores would last till the following winter, if there were no duststorm.

At the beginning of November the vegetation became scarce and the high summer temperature compelled Dad to begin feeding a selected number of cattle, in case something happened, and we had to ride, daily, around the closest water-holes to see if the windmills were pumping constantly.

Summer dwindled into autumn and that drifted into early winter of nineteen fifty-four. Mum limited our home supply of water and often we were dirty beyond all measure. The very early winter winds were dry again and blew, day after day, gradually depriving the soil of what little moisture it had retained before and the sun beat down, from a cloudless, blue sky, destroying the grass and trees.

July, almost the end of winter, the heavy winds began to occur and the soils being so dry provided perfect conditions for a duststorm. On the twentieth the storm arrived. Should I call it a duststorm or a thick, huge cloak cast over the property. Everyone stayed inside, as it was impossible to live in the storm. For three days it raged, then stopped. We ventured outside and found everything carpeted with a thick layer of dust. Two stockmen lay dead, fifty yards from the house.

Dad ordered the men to saddle their horses which had sheltered in the old garage with food and water. I insisted on riding with them but even today I still wish I had not. Cattle and horses lay dead, partly covered with sand and the water holes were little more than puddles seen on the roads outside some small southern town after it has stormed. The windmills were only tall iron poles protruding from the earth. The thick oozing mud around the puddles held dead and dying animals as prisoners. Some sections of the station had missed damage because of breaks in the storm and were cluttered with animals, not only cattle but emus and kangaroos.

At tea the following night Dad said he thought the storms were over and that we would survive but late that night we were awakened by a howling, devastating wind. In the morning he found the garage, most of the native houses and part of the homestead roofing missing, six aboriginals and the surviving cattle and horses dead amongst the sandy waste.

Two weeks after, with our belongings packed in the old Ford truck, we bid a last farewell to our home and headed down the road to Alice Springs. That road also led to another property, another home, a cattle station in the south of New South Wales, also called "Moorna."

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