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Synopsis

I had ridden all day through an endless vista ot ghostly grey gums and
ironbarks, when I came in sight of the long wavering line of vivid
green foliage which showed me that I had reached my destination--a
roughly-built slab hut with a roof of corrugated iron. This place was
to be my home for six months, and stood on the bank of Five-Head
Creek, twenty-five miles from the rising city of Townsville in North
Queensland.

Riding up to the building, I got off my wearied, sweating horse, and,
removing the saddle and my blanket and other impediments, led him to
the creek to drink, and then hobbled and turned him loose to feed on the
soft lush grass and reeds growing along the margin of the water. Then
I entered the empty house, made a brief examination of it, and wondered
how my mate would like living in such an apparently comfortless abode.

I must mention that I had come from Townsville to take charge of
Five-Head Creek cattle run, which had suffered so severely from a
terrible drought that it had been temporarily abandoned. We were to
look after and repair the fencing, many miles' length of which had been
destroyed by fire or succumbed to white ants, to search for and collect
the remnant of the cattle that had not perished in the drought, and see
after the place generally. My mate was to follow me out in a few days
with a dray-load of stores.

I lit a fire, boiled a billy of tea, and ate some cold beef and damper.
Then, as the sun dipped below a range of low hills to the westward, I
filled my pipe, and, walking down to the bank of the creek, surveyed my
environs.

"What a God-forsaken-looking country!" I thought as I gazed around me;
and, indeed, the prospect was anything but inviting. On both sides of
the creek the soil showed evidences of the severity of the past drought.
Great gaping fissures--usun cracks we called them--traversed and
zig-zagged the hot, parching ground, on which not a blade of grass was
to be seen. Here and there, amid the grey-barked ghostly gums, were
oases of green--thickets of stunted sandalwood whose evergreen leaves
defied alike the torrid summer heat and the black frosts of winter
months; but underneath them lay the shrivelled carcasses and whitening
bones of hundreds of cattle which had perished of starvation--too weak
even to totter down to die, bogged in the banks of the creek. As I
sat and smoked a strong feeling of depression took possession of me; I
already began to hate the place, and regretted I could not withdraw from
my engagement.

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