The baby comes home. Mum calls him ‘Bart’, which means she has had a baby but has possibly lost her mind.
“Not Bartholomew,” she laughs,”Just Bart!”
We watch mum feed the baby and trail after Dad to see him change his nappy. He cries and curls his legs and arms inward as his skin changes from white to beetroot. His navel is black and tied up with some gauze and a pin. He kicks and squirms when Dad gives him to me to hold in the armchair.
“Chas,” Matt suggests over lunch, “We should go get some yabbies.”
The baby is asleep so there is nothing to keep us indoors.
Churchill Park is the only place to get yabbies in the middle of summer. But it’s a long walk so you have to prepare well.
First, you can’t tell your parents because it’s far away and is full of scrub and snakes and there’s no-one there to find you if you fall down a hole. Second, you need the right equipment.
So we tell Dad we’re just going to the dam and get the bucket, a heap of string, a knife and a chop from out of the fridge.
After a quick check for spiders, we have our gumboots on and head off down the paddock. We cross into Frank Fordham’s place which is always risky because Frank is mad and yells wildly at anyone on his land.
We get onto Heany Park Rd undiscovered and then cross over onto Dobson’s place which is a rough mess of corrugated iron sheds and a frowning house overgrown with vines.
Then we’re out of the paddocks and onto Bald Hill. We start to feel the full hit of the sun overhead and flies stick to our backs and in our hair to accompany us on the steep climb.
We pause half way up and look back to see the long low roof our house down in the sloop of the valley before crossing along one of the narrow paths which splice the hill like a lemon scored for rind.
Then we get to the fence. This is a real fence. It’s six feet high with a string of barbwire at the top.
Matt scrambles up like a small crab, bucket looped over a shoulder, and I follow behind – trying to push a stubborn hot toe of each gumboot into the tight diamonds of the cyclone netting.
Matt jumps from high up and heads off straight into the bush while I clamber gingerly over the top rung of wire and down the other side. Thick, crispy curled bracken hides the ground so we stumble about over hidden logs and rocks until we hit the track.
A great mound of a wombat startles out of his sleep just ahead and pads dozily into the clearing where he props and looks us over through small black eyes before plunging into the bush.
“Down here Chas,” Matt waves from a break in the trees.
We pick our way toward the sound of the creek. Clay and shale crumble under our boots and send small cascades of dust and grit ahead of us.
Matt slides straight down the slope and is already tying up bits of meat with the string by the time I make it down the criss-cross track to the shallow bank.
“Here Chas.” He hands me the meat sinker on its string which we fling into the water. Then we both sit still and quiet for a while. Even the air around us feels warm and although the bush crackles and some magpies rustle in the bracken and make their thoaty calls, there’s very little sound
The creek runs thinly over the rocks and the pool our meat sinks into is muddy brown.
“Will there be any yabbies?” I wonder
“They love mud,” enthuses Matt. We settle into a wordless and watchful wait.
“Got one!” Matt declares suddenly as the string bounces and then pulls taut.
“Pull it up slowly,” I tell him. Dad says you never know what you might find when you’re fishing so you have to watch out.
We are experts at fishing. I caught fifteen flatheads the day dad took us out fishing off Rosebud when I was only eight.
“It’s a beautie!” Matt exclaims.
The yabbie comes up dripping and writhing in his muddy shell, his fat pincers snapping as he swings wildly on the bottom of the string.
‘Quick Chas – grab it!’ We both try to get at the yabbie on the right spot behind the big pincers.
“He’s going for it.” Matt laughs
“Just stick him in the bucket,” I plea.
Even for a fishing expert it’s hard to catch a wild thrashing yabbie on a string.
Matt gets him into the bucket and the yabbie’s tail flaps and thuds defiantly against the plastic.