It takes a special kind of person to help build a nation. It takes men of courage; strong men, willing to work and toil, battling the elements and prepared to spill their sweat and blood as they carve a new world from their raw surroundings.
In the early days of settlement in Australia there were many such men. There were also many men with dreams of becoming such great men as might found a nation, but sadly, when it truly came down to it, it was the dreamers who were most often found lacking. Only the workers, the true pioneers, those who were willing to bend their backs and work hard, only these would be the ones to survive and thrive in this strange and beautiful land.
But to do so wouldn’t be easy, for not only were hard work and fortitude a prerequisite, they must also be willing to observe the will of nature, and be willing to adapt their ways and learn from what this oftentimes harsh climate would rain down upon them.
To the place that would one day become known as Thompsonville, there came several such men. Men who would leave their mark on this place, in more ways than one.
One such man was Cecil Thompson, who, as a mere lad of sixteen, in company with his father, Henry, and three years younger brother, Orville, sailed into the sheltered harbor that would later bear their family name, hopeful of establishing new lives for themselves.
They had first landed at the newly established settlement of Macquarie Harbour, and while fishing for leads in a seedy hotel, Henry had heard tell of a place of abundance a little to the north; a place where water and grass were both plentiful, waiting only for a masterly hand to take control and shape the place into a pastoral run that would rival any that were being dreamt of in the inland.
The year was eighteen hundred and twenty, and so it was that the three Thompson men had set out to claim their piece of paradise. The only flaw in their plan, however, was that Henry Thompson was a dreamer, a man easily led on by tales of the riches and abundance that such a new land could offer, and while his sons may have been young and willing and were hard workers, Henry’s own abilities as a land owner, along with his plans, would soon be found wanting.
He lasted a year, before eventually meeting his end, with some assistance from a native spear. The two sons buried their father on the point near to where they had built their cottage, a place where Henry Thompson could forevermore look out over the ocean on one side and the lake on the other. In the years to come this would become known as Hospital Point, after the homestead that was eventually built there was bequeathed to the township that followed, on the condition that on this site a hospital must be built for the citizens of the town. At least the brothers Thompson had the foresight to imagine this new settlement as a bustling coastal town.
Henry Thompson’s grave can still be seen in the grounds of the hospital; alongside those of his two sons, surrounded by lush lawns and being carefully tended to by the current custodians of the land. It has even been said that his ghost has been seen wandering the grounds and looking down with pride over the township below from this vantage point, as he surveyed the vast empire that his descendants had built.
And then there were the Baker brothers, James and Dominic, two young men who had also heard of the land of opportunity which awaited anyone willing to roll up his sleeves and put his shoulder to the wheel, in search of fortune.
These boys too had their plans, but they also had their secrets, as did the Thompson boys, and it was secrets which would ultimately prove to be the undoing of one of these sets of brothers, as each struggled to gain a valuable foothold over their lands, and over their opposition.
* * *
Following the death of Henry Thompson, in eighteen hundred and twenty-one, his sons were now free to do as they pleased and with this newfound freedom they were spurred into action.
Orville was something of a bookish lad, smart but soft, and to some degree he might even be described as effeminate, but young Cecil had the makings of a real man. Orville may have eventually become the brains of this partnership, but it was Cecil who supplied the brawn. He was hard and tough, and with the chiseled looks to match, as if he had been hewn from the land upon which he lived. Young Cecil was a man of action, and between the two of them they soon formulated some grand plans for the land upon which they had settled.
At the time of their father’s death the family was not a particularly wealthy one, at least not in monetary terms. The Thompson boys were aged just seventeen and fourteen, and they lived in a small hut which they had built with their own hands. It was situated upon the point which overlooked both the ocean and the lake. Here they scrounged a living from their surroundings by growing a few vegetables and grazing livestock on the fertile coastal lands, while also trading with other settlers along the coastline. Their real wealth, however, lay not in coins or notes, but in the small plot of land that had been claimed and settled by their father and then bequeathed to them, and which they added to many times over, as their own plans gradually came to fruition.
For as long as the boys could remember the three Thompson men had always shared a bed, as was often the habit amongst poorer families. This was something that would not change until some years later, when Cecil would eventually find himself a wife. Until then, however, Orville continued to fill the role of warming his older brother’s bed, whilst also learning to tend to his brother’s needs, as Cecil Thompson bent his brother to his own will, a trait for which the Thompson males would become well known down through the ages.
Although somewhat reluctant at first, Orville was eventually realised the futility of protesting and in time not only became accustomed to the role, but even welcomed it, as if he knew it were something that he had always been destined to do.
The Thompson boys were extremely careful when it came to keeping their secret and this seemed to only mould them into harder men. Even Orville, in his own quiet way, grew strong and tough. They were demanding of those who worked for them, ruthless with those they dealt and traded with, and openly despised any man who would show any sign of being like they were in private. They were also universally disliked; not that that was of any real concern to them.
What was of concern, however, was that their family name not be sullied by rumours and innuendo, and Cecil, in particular, would fight any man who ever tried to do so.
One such fight almost occurred some ten years after the passing of Henry Thompson, by which time the rivalry with the Baker boys from up river was strong. Cecil and Orville had become successful and devoted farmers and traders, gradually having increased both their wealth and their holdings, using fair means and foul, while the brothers Baker had established a timber mill on the northern end of the lake, which used logs that they cut in the mountains and then floated down stream to the lake for milling.
It was about this time that the rumours first began, or at least this was when Cecil first heard of them, while sitting in that same shabby hotel in Macquarie Harbour where his father had first heard of the existence of the promised land they would make their own.
While sitting there one night, enjoying a beer after having sold the goods from their farms and then enjoying a dalliance with the girl he knew as Rosie, Cecil had heard a man whisper something to a companion about ‘those goddam sodomites from the lake up along the coast’. It was followed by a quiet laugh, which sent a shiver down Cecil’s spine, and when he lowered his glass and glanced in that direction he saw two men grinning into their beers, while every now and then they would glance sideways in Cecil’s direction.
‘What did you say?’ Cecil said firmly, and through gritted teeth, as he turned to face them, thinking that they must have been referring to him and Orville.
‘Who wants to know?’ one of the men said.
‘The name’s Thompson. Cecil Thompson,’ Cecil replied, as he stood and faced them, his fists clenched, while having knocked his stool over in the process. ‘I’m from that lake up along the coast. Are you calling me and my brother sodomites?’
The two strangers looked up at him, but said nothing.
‘Well?’ roared Cecil. ‘Repeat your claim, if you’re man enough!’
‘That wasn’t the name we heard,’ one of the men said flatly.
‘No, it wasn’t,’ his companion agreed.
‘Then what name was it?’ Cecil demanded.
‘It was Baker. Some says they is timber cutters,’ the second man replied. ‘And that they are brothers.’
‘Yeah . . . but they really ain’t brothers either . . . they’re . . .’
‘Enough,’ Cecil snapped. ‘I think I’ve heard all I need to hear . . . except . . . how did you come by this information?’
‘We was talkin’ to someone here what recognised them,’ the first man answered. ‘Says he knew them from back in Sydney town. Good workers, but never liked the ladies. Always kept to themselves. He heard they was sayin’ they were brothers named Baker, but he says only one’s name is Baker, the other one’s called Garrett, or sumpin’ like that. Seems they scurried out of the southern colonies as soon as someone learned their secret . . .’
‘So, what’s it to you?’ the second man asked Cecil, having already noticed the expression of amusement on the elder Thompson brother’s face.
‘They’re my neighbours,’ Cecil smirked.
* * *
As he began his long journey home the following day, driving his horse and cart along the wild coastal road, Cecil had ample time to turn his trip over and over in his mind. Thoughts of the delightful and sometimes firey Rosie O’Connor, the woman he had decided he would marry, came to mind; with visions of her alabaster skin, her flaming red hair and her ample and accommodating proportions. But it was thoughts of the timber cutters from the far side of the lake, and their devilish masquerade, which he seemed to keep coming back to. That this new information was important went without saying, but just how he and Orville might be able to use that information was another matter.
Orville would come up with a plan, he knew, and no doubt it would then be up to Cecil to be the one to follow through on it. That was just how things worked between the two of them.
As to his news about Rosie, he knew he would need to tread carefully with how he would break that news to his brother.
It was late on the following day when Cecil eventually arrived home at the house on the point. Orville had spotted him coming when he was still some distance away, on the far side of the harbor, and met him with the ferry which they had established at the mouth of the lake, being the narrowest point at which they could cross.
‘How was the trip?’ Orville asked as he greeted his brother.
‘Very interesting,’ Cecil replied. ‘I sold our produce, and I learned some interesting news about our neighbours, the timber cutters.’
‘What kind of news?’
‘That can wait, my brother. First, let us cross to the far side of the river and unload our supplies before nightfall. After that, there is much we need to talk about.’
With a nod Orville opened the gate to the ferry and dropped the ramp to allow Cecil and the horse and wagon to load, then once everything was secure the brothers each took hold of the rope and began to pull the ferry through the water, heading for the far side, as the shadows began to lengthen and the sun began to ready itself to farewell another day.
Some time later, with their stores safely packed into their supply hut and a meal cooking, the brothers sat upon the front verandah of their home, listening to the sounds of the night coming alive, and watching the campfires of the few other settlers and those who worked for them as they sprang up around the lake.
‘One day this is going to be a fine part of the world in which to live. It will be a town to rival all others on this stretch of coast, I believe. And the Thompson name will be known far and wide,’ Cecil remarked.
‘Perhaps,’ his brother replied.
‘You have doubts?’ Cecil enquired.
‘Only about who it will be who can make this place into such a notable part of the world. Neither of us have found women to help carry on the family name, as father had hoped . . .’
‘Perhaps not you,’ Cecil chuckled.
‘And what do you mean by that?’
‘I believe that I have found the woman I shall marry. A feisty Irish woman from the township, with a sharp wit and flaming red hair.’
‘And does she have a name?’ Orville asked.
‘Rosie O’Connor. She sings and dances at the pub father favoured . . .’
‘And no doubt has other skills as well,’ Orville leered.
‘They are countless,’ Cecil agreed. ‘We are a good match.’
‘And what becomes of me, once your new bed companion arrives?’
‘We shall build you a cottage, and find you a woman with which to share it. If we are to become the founders of a town to be built on this site, we must at least give an appearance of respectability.’
Orville knew that their current living arrangements wouldn’t be able to be maintained forever, at least not without tongues beginning to wag.
‘And from what do we build this cottage?’ he asked.
‘From timber, of course. Timber to be milled by our good friends the Bakers.’
‘They will be.’
‘And what makes you say that?’
‘I have learned that there are apparently things about those two that they don’t want the world to know . . .’
‘Things which may some day be of advantage to us?’ Orville probed, sensing his brothers’ restlessness.
‘You could say that. I’m sure you will find a way to turn this to our advantage.’
‘You know me too well, brother,’ Orville chuckled.
* * *
At a point that was closer to the foot of the mountains than to the lake, and high on the upper reaches of the river which flowed into the lake, two men were getting ready to retire for the night, oblivious to the fact that the secret they held so dear had been once again discovered.
The childhood friends, James and Dominic, whose relationship had now gone so much further than either had ever expected as they were growing up in the struggling colony, had thought that they had finally found a place in the world where they would be able to live their lives as they saw fit, without the worry of dealing with the rules and conventions imposed by the society in which they lived.
It was here, up-river from the lake and safe harbor, where the two men had settled and begun cutting timber from the dense forests, dragging the logs to the river using teams of bullocks or horses and then sending them downstream, where they would eventually be milled on the shores of the lake. It was here where the brothers had established a small timber mill, where they would turn their logs into saleable timber.
They were not alone in the forests, of course, for there were others who also called this land their homes; other timber cutters who worked in conjunction with these men in their endeavours, and others still, with darker skins, who simply lived along the river just as their ancestors had done for thousands of years before them.
For James and Dominic, their simple ruse of stating they were brothers had so far proved adequate, especially given their resemblance to each other; or so they had thought. They weren’t to know, however, that they had recently been seen by an old acquaintance in the newly named settlement of Macquarie Harbour and that their secret had been revealed to others. In the coming days their world was set to change, but tonight, as they undressed each other in readiness for washing away the days’ sweat and toil from cutting timber, using a cloth and water that had been heated over their fire and poured into a large metal basin which now sat in the middle of the floor of their hut, their thoughts were only on each other and the feelings they shared.
They were both nearing thirty years of age and were at the peak of their physical powers, and as the flame of a lantern flickered in the centre of the room, it highlighted every ripple of muscle on their naked bodies. It was an impressive sight as James dipped a washcloth into the warm water and then sloshed it over his lover’s back, gently washing the muscular, work-hardened body he loved, before building some soap into a lather and then working that over Dominic’s body as well.
‘That feels so good,’ Dominic hoarsely remarked, as he leaned his body back against his man.
‘Then what about this?’ James asked, as he slid one hand around Dominic’s body and down below his navel, before fastening around the familiar firm shaft which protruded from his groin and giving a couple of strokes.
‘That feels even better,’ Dominic hoarsely whispered.
‘Then we had best not waste any time in bathing if we want to get to the best parts that this night has to offer.’
‘No, let’s not,’ Dominic agreed.
Once more James lathered his lover with soap, before washing it away with the washcloth, then pouring a pitcher of the tepid water over Dominic’s head to wash the soap from his hair. Soon they were changing places, with James allowing Dominic to repeat the process upon him. With each gentle touch of his lovers’ hand both men were growing rigid, and by the time they had dried each other and moved toward their bed, in a clumsy dance, while their lips were seemingly locked together, they were ready once more to take their love to that higher level which both men yearned for.
On this night, however, their love making wasn’t to be fulfilled, as the two men were interrupted, firstly by the restless sounds of their horses outside, indicating they had been disturbed, and then by the excited – even angry – sounds of voices coming from outside their hut.
They knew what those sounds meant, of course, and wasted no time in springing into action.
‘Blasted natives,’ James cursed, as he rose from the bed and grabbed one of the two rifles which always stood by the door, ready for just such occasions. Without even thinking he shoved the barrel of the rifle through one of the cracks between the timber slabs in the wall and fired off a shot, deliberately aiming high, before tossing the rifle to Dominic for re-loading and then grabbing the second rifle and repeating the process.
This was usually enough to scare the locals away, and soon they could hear the garbled sound of the natives’ voices growing fainter as they scurried away into the darkness, until finally the night was quiet once more.
‘They never give up, do they?’ Dominic remarked, as the two men ventured out onto the front verandah.
‘No . . . not that we can really blame them for that, though. We’re the ones who have settled on their lands. I’m actually surprised that we don’t have more trouble with them.’
‘Well, they do say that Henry Thompson was killed by the blacks . . .’
‘Yes, but that was a number of years ago now. I don’t think they would be likely to try anything like that these days . . . the retribution they suffered last time was surely enough to teach them a valuable lesson. ’
‘Let’s hope so,’ Dominic solemnly replied.
* * *
Cecil Thompson knew that his brother Orville was a manipulative and cunning man, which was why he had been only too happy to share with him the news he had heard about the men they knew as the Baker brothers.
He also knew that it would only be a matter of time before Orville would come up with some idea as to how they might be able to use this information to their advantage, and he wasn’t to be disappointed.
In the end it was Cecil’s own comment about using timber to be supplied by the Bakers which had planted the seed in Orville’s mind.
‘What price do you think the Bakers may pay for their news to remain private?’ Orville casually asked his brother one morning.
‘I’m sure I wouldn’t know.’ Cecil replied. ‘Why? What are you thinking?’
‘If our town is to grow, then we shall need timber, and considerable amounts of it,’ Orville continued. ‘But somehow it is us who need to be the ones making the money out of it.’
‘Which can only happen if we are the ones who can supply it!’
The grin on Orville’s face told his brother that he had hit the nail on the head.
‘If we controlled the timber business in the settlement, or at the very least a significant share of that business,’ Orville continued, ‘then surely we can control the growth of the town, while at the same time turning a handsome profit.’
‘And how do we gain control of the timber business? I know there are other timber cutters around, but the sodomites are the only ones who cut their own timber and then mill it into a useable product for sale.’
‘That they do, and the town will need men such as them in order for it to continue to grow. If we are to take any profit from such a business then we must simply become partners with them . . . and what better leverage is there than that which we now know about them . . . which I am sure will be something they will want to keep private.’
‘So, it’s blackmail then?’
‘I find that to be such a distasteful word, brother . . . but unless you have a better suggestion,’ Orville smirked.
‘Then we shall visit them tomorrow,’ Cecil grinned.
After spending the afternoon loading their small boat with sufficient supplies for several days, the Thompson men struck out the following morning, first crossing the lake and visiting the site of the timber mill to see if the men they sought might be there, then upon finding the place deserted they headed upstream, knowing they had quite a journey ahead of them.
Once back out on the river, which for the most part ran wide and slow, they were able to raise a sail on their boat and were soon making good time. With blue skies and sunshine before them, and an easterly breeze at their backs, pushing them inland and away from the lake, they felt as if they were the last two people on earth, at least until they noticed their first group of natives along the river bank, eyeing them curiously. They were all naked, the men, the women and the children, apart from whatever they held in their hands, which, to these white men, seemed to range from spears and smaller sticks, to what looked to be food baskets of some sort.
They could also see the children excitedly pointing at them, as they jabbered away in their native tongue, which was impossible for the white men to understand, while the native men stood tall and erect and watched them with curious eyes. One man stepped forward, holding his spear at the ready, as if to protect the members of his tribe, but nothing came of it and the brothers passed without incident.
Continuing on their way they felt as if they were making good time and it was late in the afternoon when Cecil and Orville came to a place in the river where they could see that the water bubbled over rocks below the surface. Here Cecil steered the boat toward the shoreline, where Orville deftly jumped out onto the grassy bank with a rope in hand once they had reached it.
It would be impossible for them to negotiate the underwater obstacles simply by the power of sail, so once Cecil had joined his brother on the river bank the two of them began the task of dragging the boat through the bubbling waters and back into calmer going, where they would then be able to continue on their way. It proved to be a more difficult task than they had first thought it might, with Cecil having to wade into the water and physically push the boat, scraping it across some smooth rocks, while Orville continued to pull on the rope. In the end they were able to achieve their goal, with the little boat soon bobbing gently in calm water once more, while shadows lengthened and darkness began to fall around them.
‘So, what do we do now?’ Orville asked. ‘Do we make camp, or push on?’
‘We camp,’ Cecil confidently replied. ‘But we take turns at keeping watch. I don’t want to wake up with a spear sticking out of my body.’
‘No . . . you never did like anything being shoved into you, did you?’ Orville replied, with the snide remark not going unnoticed.
‘Well, not as much as you, that’s for certain,’ Cecil added, with a smirk. ‘It seems we all have our foibles, but let’s not judge one another. While I secure our boat and unload some supplies, how about you start gathering some wood for a fire? It will be dark soon, so we will need to eat, then we shall build it up for the night. Afterwards I’ll take first watch if you like?’
‘All right then.’
‘And don’t stray too far from the camp. Those natives could be anywhere.’
Obediently Orville headed off into the bush in search of firewood, as Cecil set about his tasks. It irked Orville that Cecil still looked upon him as the little brother, to be ordered about at the older brother’s whim, especially given that Orville was by far the smarter of the two, but he knew that there was little else he could do. He would defer and submit to Cecil in all matters, for that was their way, but he knew that one day it would be he who ruled this empire they were building, and by then the name of Thompson, and that of their as yet unnamed town, would be known far and wide.
As Orville gathered his firewood he constantly scanned the bush for any sign of the natives they had seen earlier. The bush was thick in most places, but occasionally it would open out into small clearings and it was from these clearings that Orville often saw the strange animals of this land scurrying away, after having been startled by his presence. It was also when he stepped into one such clearing when Orville himself was startled, when he was confronted by a naked, spear wielding black man, who caused him to jump backwards and drop his bundle of firewood when he levelled the spear in Orville’s direction.
The black man was young, Orville noted, and probably not much more than a teenager himself, but what struck Orville as being quite extraordinary, apart from the pendulous manhood which hung between his thighs, was the young man’s athletic build, coupled with a wild appearance. The two features seemed to be polar opposites, yet standing before Orville was a specimen of mankind, the likes of which he had never before seen up close.
The wild hair, the round face with a flat nose, the long limbs, the defined, almost hairless body which was the colour of coal, it made for a picture that would be burned into Orville’s mind forever.
For what seemed like quite a long time the two men eyed each other off. Absentmindedly Orville adjusted the lengthening member inside his own pants, which reminded him of his true feelings toward those of the same sex as he. This brought a smile to the black man’s lips, revealing the most stunningly white and perfectly aligned set of teeth that Orville had ever seen, before the aborigine did the same, grasping his penis and stretching it to its full length, then letting it fall back into almost the same position from which it had come. With the organ now sticking out slightly Orville watched, transfixed, as it seemed to continue to grow in size.
Suddenly the black man started talking, rattling off in rapid-fire a series of sounds, which to Orville sounded like nothing more than gibberish, yet he felt sure would have been words which made perfect sense to the man.
When he stopped talking he pointed at Orville, but when the white man didn’t answer, only managing to shake his head instead, the aborigine took a step forward, while still holding his spear in front of him.
Orville stepped back and the aborigine raised his hand which held the spear, pointing it at Orville’s lower regions, which shocked the white man.
‘What do you want?’ Orville demanded, but of course he wasn’t understood.
Just at that moment, having heard Orville talking, Cecil called out to him. ‘Brother, what’s keeping you?’
This time it was the aboriginal man’s turn to be startled, as he took a step back, and then another, his eyes wide with alarm. Then with one last look at Orville he flashed a smile and turned away, before trotting across the clearing and disappearing into the dense bushland, providing the white man with an excellent view of his ample buttocks as he departed.
‘Orville! Where are you?’ Cecil called once more.
‘I’m here, brother. I’m coming,’ he replied, as he bent down to start re-gathering the firewood he had earlier dropped, before moments later Cecil entered the clearing.
‘What kept you?’
‘There was a native man here . . . carrying a spear, which he pointed at me.’
‘Did he threaten you?’
‘No, I don’t think so, rather, I think we simply startled each other,’ Orville replied, while thinking that it was almost a case of the two of them scaring each other stiff. He wondered if he would see the black man again, even though, deep down inside him, he knew that it could only ever cause trouble, for both of them.
‘Well, hurry on then, we need to get a fire started before it is too late. And if there are natives about, we need to be careful.’
* * *
On this side of the mountains darkness comes early, and as the Thompson brothers were settling down for the night, so too were the other human residents of the forests; both native and immigrant.
For James and Dominic, they were still wary after the events of the previous night. They knew that there were natives still in the area, as they had seen them once more that day, and they also knew that from time to time there had been some trouble between the natives and the few free settlers in the district. So far James and Dominic had had very few problems, apart from an occasional nightly visit from some members of the local tribe, which would usually result in the firing of a few shots into the air to scare off the intruders, before peace and quiet would descend upon the forests once more, at least for a time.
For the most part, the two white men kept largely to themselves, cutting the tall trees down from the stand of timber they had discovered a few years beforehand, along a creek and not far from the river, before dragging them to the water and sliding the logs down the ramps they had fashioned for just that purpose. Occasionally they would see the local tribe close to the river as they were working, or they would see the women out gathering yams and other food for themselves, while other times they would see the men sitting and watching them work. As time had passed they had grown accustomed to the natives being around, but even so, they knew better than to treat them lightly.
The incident which had occurred the previous night had left the two men on edge, as the blacks were known to be unpredictable and it was impossible to tell what they might do. The fact that they had both seen the tribe again that day was also of some concern to them, and in particular to Dominic, but there was still little they could do, apart from staying vigilant.
‘You can stop worrying,’ James said, trying to reassure his lover. ‘They won’t try anything again.’
‘You sound so sure,’ Dominic replied.
‘Well, have they ever come back two nights in a row before?’
‘I guess not.’
‘Then why would they start now? Let’s just make sure the guns are loaded, just in case, and then we can retire for the night. We still have much work to do tomorrow and it won’t do either of us any good to stay awake all night worrying.’
‘And of tomorrow? What if they return?’
‘Well, then we shall deal with them as the need arises . . . if the need arises,’ James said, as he hugged Dominic to him.
There was no doubt as to the love these two men shared. Even to anyone who may have just met them, and to whom they would have introduced themselves as brothers, they would be able to tell within minutes of meeting them that there was an incredibly strong bond between them. Yet few would have ever picked them to be like they were; two burly timber cutters thought to be brothers and yet living an unbrotherly lifestyle.
They did their best to hide their true personalities from the outside world, and for the most part were successful in doing just that, but from each other, well, that was more difficult. An outsider might not be able to sense Dominic’s fear or uncertainty over the presence of the natives, but to James it was clearly evident. He knew that no matter what he said it would be unlikely to ease his lover’s concerns, and so he tried this best to behave as if nothing was worth worrying over, even if deep down inside him he shared some of those same fears.
The men stripped and crawled into their bed together, with weapons close at hand should they be needed, but on this night any fears they held would be unfounded. There were no sounds in the night of wild natives taunting them, only the sound of native birds which never seemed to sleep, or their horses in the nearby yards, seemed to break the silence, and eventually sleep came to visit the two men, putting their fears to rest.
* * *
When morning came the bush came to life once more. James was the first to rise, relieved that the night had been a quiet one, and went about starting the day just as he always did, by feeding the horses they would use to drag their logs to the water.
At an ancient campsite which was sheltered by an outcrop of rock, the natives too began their day, just as they had done for thousands of years, by setting out to hunt and forage.
At their campsite by the river Cecil Thompson woke his brother, and after boiling a billy of water they each made a cup of tea, which was used to wash down some dry biscuits. Afterwards they began to ready their small boat for the remainder of the trip upstream to meet the timber cutters.
‘If we find these men,’ Orville said, as they pushed the boat back out into the river, ‘just let me do the talking. We must be careful how we approach this matter.’
‘Of course,’ Cecil replied.
The trip upstream was a pleasant one and it wasn’t long before Cecil recognised the creek which they needed to follow and steered the boat into its mouth. Shortly afterwards Cecil spotted the landmarks he had been told to look out for, when he had earlier discussed the location of the timber cutters with other locals. He knew they were closing in on their destination, and when they rounded a bend in the creek Cecil found the place they were looking for; there before them were two large logs which had been positioned on a bank. Each led down into the water, spaced about twenty feet apart, making a slide on which their freshly cut logs could be easily pushed into the river.
‘That’s the place,’ Cecil remarked, as he pointed toward the two logs, then steered their little boat in that direction. ‘See those two logs? That’s where they slide the logs they cut into the water, before they float them downstream.’
‘Quite a clever idea,’ Orville replied. ‘And what better way to get the logs close to where they are needed. I can see us all growing very wealthy in the years to come . . . that is, of course, if they agree to work with us.’
‘And if they don’t?’
‘Then the shame they will feel at having their secret exposed will surely be enough to force them from this land, wouldn’t you think? And if that happens, then I am sure that their business will be ours for the taking.’
‘I am sure it will,’ Cecil replied, grinning, as he pointed the craft toward a spot on the bank right beside the timber cutters’ logs.
Once they had climbed out of their boat and Cecil has secured it to a nearby tree, they retrieved a few items from the boat, such as their rifles, then quickly found the path which led away from the creek, which they presumed would lead them to the hut they were told the men lived in. It proved to be a well-worn path, carved from the bushland, and with the imprints of horses’ hooves, drag marks made by logs, and the shape of men’s footprints all visible in the moist soil it wasn’t long before they came into a clearing, in the middle of which stood a modest, though quite neat, slab-hut with a bark roof and a verandah along the front.
‘Well, it looks like we’ve found the place,’ Cecil remarked, stating the obvious.
‘No sign of any activity, though.’
‘Probably out working in the forest. Come on, let’s take a closer look, while they aren’t here.’
‘You’re only assuming they aren’t here at the moment. They could just as well be inside right now, and watching us . . .’
‘Then that’ll be good if they are. We won’t have to wait around for them.’
‘Then let us hope that we can conclude our business swiftly and set a course for home. With the natives being so close around here I don’t have a good feeling about this place.’
‘I think you worry too much, brother,’ Cecil remarked, before setting off for the hut and calling back over his shoulder, ‘Come on, then.’
As they approached the hut a short time later Cecil called out as they reached it. ‘Hello, the house. Anyone home?’ he called, while stopping and leaning on his rifle.
When no answer was forthcoming Orville stepped forward and banged on the door. More silence followed, so he tried the handle on the door and then pushed it open.
‘You think that’s a good idea?’ Cecil asked from behind him.
‘If they’re not here, what harm can it do?’ Orville deviously replied. ‘If you’re so worried, you keep an eye out for them while I take a look inside.’
‘I can do that.’
‘Take a look around the place and see what they have.’
Both men knew exactly what they were doing. The Baker brothers, or whoever it was that they really were, were about to become unwitting victims of what Orville was planning. They were clearly the targets in a game of high stakes, and without even knowing it they were already destined to be losers.
* * *
It was midday before Dominic and James returned to their hut for some lunch, only to discover two men sitting on the ground out in front of it. They were already on edge, after having seen the tribe of aboriginals by the creek again that morning, with the men appearing to be out hunting, with their spears and other weapons in hand, so it came as something of a shock to find these unwelcome visitors.
At the sound of their approach the Thompson brothers jumped to their feet.
‘Hello, friends,’ Cecil cheerfully said. ‘I’m . . .’
They immediately knew who these men were. They also knew that they weren’t to be trusted, something that Dominic and James both reminded each other of with the glance that passed between them.
‘We know who you are,’ James said to them, ignoring the offered hand. ‘Now, what is it that you want?’
‘Now, is that any way to greet your potential new partners?’ Orville replied.
‘We work only for ourselves,’ James replied, and not without some venom.
‘Please, let us explain,’ Orville said. ‘At least hear us out. I believe that we might all benefit from what we have come here to discuss with you.’
‘I somehow doubt that,’ Dominic replied.
‘But how can you know that if you’re not prepared to listen to us?’ Cecil asked.
‘Your reputation precedes you,’ answered James, as he stepped around Cecil and made for the front door of the hut, with Dominic following. ‘And that’s all we need to know.’
The Thompson brothers glanced at each other. Neither brother was used to being fobbed-off in such a manner, and it didn’t sit well with either of them. Cecil could see that Orville was quietly fuming, with the anger building inside him. He knew that if this reception continued in its current vein, it wouldn’t be long before his brother would react.
‘We wanted to offer you some work . . .’ Cecil quickly said. ‘We need timber, and quite a quantity of it . . . if the price is to our liking, of course.’
James and Dominic both stopped, then turned to face their visitors.
‘Yes, it’s true,’ Orville added. ‘We even thought a partnership of some sort might be workable, given that what we’re talking of is the building of a whole town.’
‘We work alone,’ James repeated.
‘It really would be in your best interests to reconsider,’ Orville suggested.
‘And just what is that supposed to mean?’ Dominic enquired.
‘What it means is that people with secrets should think carefully before they reject generous offers,’ Orville replied.
‘And what is that supposed to mean?’ demanded James, immediately stepping in front of Orville and confronting him.
‘Just let me ask you this . . . which one of you is it who carries the name of Garrett?’ Orville asked, as casually as he could.
At the mention of that name both James and Dominic froze, for just a few seconds, before eventually glancing at each other. They knew that they had been found out. How that could have happened they couldn’t be sure, but it was obvious that their past had again caught up with them.
‘Before you say anything you may later regret,’ Orville continued, his voice sounding smug and certain that he had the two men exactly where he wanted them, ‘you should at least hear us out.’
James and Dominic said nothing. Instead they continued staring down their accusers as they waited for the final ultimatum. What eventually came, however, wasn’t what they had expected.
‘We came here to offer you a proposition,’ Orville said. ‘We don’t care about . . . about your past, or your . . . well, let’s just call them habits. We only care about the future, and about turning a profit . . . and the two of you, if you accept our offer, can benefit handsomely from that.’
‘And just what is your offer?’ Dominic ventured.
‘We want to be partners . . . in your timber business.’
‘And if we don’t accept?’ asked James.
‘Then we shall be forced to seek a partnership elsewhere . . . and when we tell people why we are doing so . . . because the two of you refused our generous offer, and then we tell them why . . . well . . . I’m sure you can understand what the reaction of the rest of our little community will be . . .’
‘You bastards!’ James spat. ‘Just like that, you expect us to hand over all we have worked for . . .’
‘It’s a small price to pay, wouldn’t you think?’ Orville answered, but with a malicious grin upon his face.
‘Go to hell! Now get off our land!’ James demanded, while bringing his rifle up to hold across his chest.
‘You should at least think it over,’ a still grinning Orville replied, knowing that he had them exactly where he wanted them, judging by the anger he could see on the face of James, and the fear he could see on Dominic’s. ‘We’ll come and see you again tomorrow. You can give us an answer then.’
‘You already have it! Now get the hell off our land, before you find yourself being buried in it!’ James replied, while this time pointing his rifle in the direction of their unwelcome guests.
Orville stood his ground, staring to the muzzle which pointed at him, but Cecil knew that nothing more could be achieved here and so he began to drag his brother away. The way that Orville continued to leer at the angry James unnerved Cecil, and judging by even his own devious practices and experiences, he knew this wasn’t going to be a battle that would be easily won.
‘Tomorrow!’ Orville said, with some finality, then he turned, shrugging off his brother’s hands, then walked off in the direction from which they had come.
‘I’ll see you in hell first, Thompson,’ James replied.
‘You shouldn’t be in such a hurry!’ Orville called back over his shoulder.
* * *
For long into the night Dominic and James discussed what had happened that day, and the ramifications of their news becoming known.
‘It makes no difference how many people are living around here,’ Dominic said. ‘Once our news is out there, we shall be cast out like lepers once more . . . just like what happened the last time.’
‘But we can’t just keep running every time our past catches up with us,’ James replied. ‘And we certainly can’t let the likes of the Thompson’s steal what we have built just because they threaten to spread these vicious stories about us!’
‘But they aren’t stories . . . it’s the truth,’ Dominic whispered. ‘And even if it wasn’t the truth, people would still believe it anyhow, because . . .’
‘Because that’s what people are like . . . the world over.’
‘So what is it that we do about it?’ James asked.
‘I . . . I don’t know,’ his brother answered. ‘But we must do something.’
Sleep didn’t come easily for the timber cutters, who on this night chose not to bathe and make love, as they so often did. For hours on end they sat upon their bed, listening to the sounds of the night, while weak moonlight, where it came in through the cracks in walls of the slab hut, cast pale bars across their floor.
From time to time they heard the sounds of animals moving about outside their hut, but these were sounds they recognised. It was other sounds that they were wary of, sounds that were foreign to the bushland in which they lived, and as they huddled together on their bed, with their rifles never far from their hands, that was how they spent their night.
At some point deep in the night, Dominic felt his lover stir.
‘What is it?’ he whispered.
‘The horses are restless,’ James replied, referring to the work animals kept in the yards beside the hut.
Together they strained to hear what sounds could be heard, and for a long while there was nothing, apart from a snort from one of their animals, or the stamp of a hoof on the hard ground.
When nothing came they finally felt that they would be able to relax once more, but just as they were about to nod off to a fitful sleep the heard a sound which sent shivers through them both.
It was the muffled sound of people talking; impossible to understand, but equally impossible for it to be mistaken for anything else.
‘Who do you think it could be?’ Dominic whispered.
‘It could only be the blacks, or the Thompsons, I would have thought. Either way, I intend to find out and give them the fright of their lives!’ James replied, before disengaging from Dominic and swinging his legs over the edge of their bed.
‘I’m not sure if we should do that. Wouldn’t it be better to wait until dawn?’
‘To what end? To wait for them to jump us when we head out for the day? If it’s the Thompsons, then I wouldn’t trust them not to do something just like that . . . if they want our business so they can turn a profit for themselves, which is pretty much what I think they are planning, then I’m sure they wouldn’t stop at using force against us to achieve that.’
Dominic could only stare at his lover as he pondered those words.
‘No, Dom!’ James continued. ‘I’ll not give them that satisfaction. I intend to confront them . . . especially if it is those Thompson bastards!’
‘And if it’s the blacks?’
‘Then I shall simply give them yet another fright and send them scurrying for the hills.’
For a moment Dominic remained silent. James knew that as the more cautious and thoughtful man of the two, Dominic would be thinking things through, weighing up their options, as he always did when things troubled him.
When Dominic finally spoke, it was with some gravity, and some foreboding.
‘Then I shall be by your side, my love. If we are able to give the natives a fright, then we both shall enjoy it, but if anything else is to happen, then it will happen to the both of us.’
* * *
It was several days later when the bodies of the James and Dominic would be found by two other timber cutters, the Sorenson brothers, who had worked alongside them in the forests. They had grown worried after not having seen their friends for some time.
The injuries which the two men had received and the cause of their deaths were obvious, with several weapons, including a blood covered axe and native spears, being found close to the bodies. What was most curious to those who found the bodies, however, was the way in which they were positioned, with the two men being found reaching out to each other over the bare ground, their fingers barely touching . . . just as lovers might do.
Such things did not concern the Sorenson men, though, as they too knew all too well how close a man can be to his brother when he worked alongside him. All that the Sorensons cared about was seeing their friends were given a proper burial, and so they saw to it that James and Dominic were sent to their eternal rest in graves not far from their home. Two rugged wooden crosses marked their final resting places, facing the mountains in which they had made their home.
Given the circumstances in which the bodies were found, and the native weapons found nearby, blame was swiftly levelled at the local aboriginal population but for many this was a difficult story to believe. There were those who lived around the lake who were, in fact, quite friendly with the blacks and these people maintained that not only did the aboriginals have no involvement, they had said that other white men had been seen in the area at the time the killings had taken place. Of course, with no local law enforcement to report the crime to, it would be a week before any reports of the murders filtered through to the police stationed at Macquarie Harbour. By this time it was too late to do anything other than file a report stating that the event had taken place, and so, despite such reports eventually being made no suspects were ever identified, nor was anybody ever caught or convicted over the murders.
Soon after the murders had occurred rumours had quickly begun to circulate about the demise of the timber cutters from Bakers Creek, and of the sinful life they were leading. There was no shortage of theories and innuendo doing the rounds, and it also didn’t go unnoticed that the Thompson brothers soon became captains of the local timber industry, having taken over the timber mill which James and Dominic had established, but once again there was nothing but gossip surrounding how that came about.
As time went by the story of James and Dominic and their demise was one that would eventually become lost amongst a myriad of other stories that the new settlement of Thompsonville, named by the founders of the town in honour of their own family, seemed to provide. Scandals would come and go and the story of two timber cutters gradually faded from memory, while out in the bush where they lived, nature would take back much of the cleared land around the hut. Eventually the graves too would be swallowed up by scrub and forest.
But every now and then, when an adventurous soul or two, would decide to stop by that old hut in the forest and spend the night there, the story of James Garrett and Dominic Baker would once again be told after the scared campers would return to the town, and people would again be asking the question of just what did happen on that fateful night so long ago now.
Only those who were there on that night would ever know what events had unfolded, and by whom the terrible crime had been committed, though sadly the witnesses had all long since passed.
If only it could be possible to talk to them, people often pondered.