On the floodplains of the Gulf country, as the first golden rays of the day spread over the dry spikes of spinifex and the Flinders and Mitchell grasses, the brolgas came out to dance.
Grey and pink, the awkward, angular birds leapt and bowed and turned and bobbed in perfectly silent choreography, attaining an unusual grace.
Ben sat in the Toyota and watched them. He was on his way out to Carson’s, the furthest paddock from the homestead, on the border with the Hartford’s place. It was a half an hour’s drive along bumpy dirt tracks, and he had to check on a mob of weaners. They were the only really young cattle he still had on the property. He had held onto them this year in the hope of a good wet season and plenty of grass. A few months fattening them up and he could get a good sale on them by February or March.
That was the hope, anyway, but hope had been in as short supply as rain during the drought. As the brolgas danced, however, Ben felt at peace for the first time in months. This was still a great place, the Gulf, and Ben wouldn’t live anywhere else. In all his years living up here, he’d never seen such a large flock of brolgas, and they all danced in the early morning light. Dozens of them, maybe over a hundred, he thought. He watched the leaping, dipping steps and the wide waving of wings until the heat of the sun began to catch up to its light.
At that point, the dance stopped and the brolgas stood for a moment in a confused, scatter-gun pattern, as if puzzled that music only they could hear had ended a note before the expected crescendo. They began to wander off, spreading out in separate directions, stooped and awkward, the grace of the dance forgotten.
Ben restarted the car and slowly continued along the bumpy track. There was a lot of work to do and he couldn’t spend all day sitting around watching the birds. There were cattle to feed, cattle to move, fences to mend, water points to check, machinery to repair and accounts to balance, as he juggled an ever-growing debt to the bank. His thoughts dipped and leapt and spun as he drove. There was another job for today: a motion-sensor camera to retrieve, hidden in a Coolabah tree, and footage to check. Perhaps, a crime to uncover.
Perhaps today he could solve one problem, at least.