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Image by Clint Patterson

Destination Celebration

(c) Linda Hutchison April 2016

Dave stretched, yawned, and threw open the well-worn curtains to see the early light playing faintly along the dark horizon. Outside, the dawn chorus was at its peak. “How anyone sleeps in until 6am, I’ll never know.” he said emphatically to Frank, his faithful workmate. Dave stirred three sugars into a stiff black coffee, then downed it with slabs of toast, occasionally lobbing bits to his dog. Walking out into the cool morning air, he tossed his swag into the back of his ute. Frank automatically leapt into the tray and stood waiting to be chained up, but Dave whistled then gestured to the door. “No mate, we’re going a bit far for that. Hop in.” The dog obliged and took his place on the passenger seat. As they set off, dawn was now dominating the Darwin skyline. Dave watched it disappearing in the rear vision mirror, smiling as he anticipated the thousands of kilometres ahead on their journey south.
Stewart walked slowly out across his paddock to his dogs, boots crunching in the frost-laden grass. North-eastern Tasmania was spectacular at this time of year. A mist lay softly in the valley, and the smoke from wood fires dotted the landscape like tags on a 3D map, each plume pinpointing a local family. The dogs, hearing him coming, leapt out of their kennels and pressed against the wire, occasionally letting out an excited woof of anticipation. He let them out for a run and walked down to the paddock fence where he gazed over his cows with appreciation. The dogs raced together across the frozen grass, leaving wide arching tracks across the paddock. He wondered how he’d got life so lucky, then eventually returned to the homestead with Boof and Harry. “You’ll be on the boat tonight boys,” he warned them, “so don’t eat too much!” Their tails wagged in response to his enthusiasm.
James and Audrey sat in a café in Melbourne’s CBD sipping their morning espressos and sharing a salmon and goats cheese bagel. Audrey was staring into the distance, oblivious to the bustle around her. All she could see were sweeping green hills, beautifully gnarly redgums, and the blue-grey peaks of the Grampians.
“Earth to Audrey, earth to Audrey.”
“What?” she smiled at her husband of 15 years.
“Where were you?” he asked grinning. “You looked inordinately happy for a Monday morning.”
“I was somewhere around Dunkeld,” she pondered dreamily. “Friday can’t come soon enough.”
“I’ll second that. Let’s leave early. I want time to get the fire sorted before it gets too dark.”
“Done. I’ll pick up the kids at lunchtime and we’ll be out of Melbourne by 1 o’clock. Western Victoria, here we come!”
Down on the beach near Port Welshpool, Doug pushed his hat down more firmly around his ears, zipped up his navy blue quilted vest and lifted his ruddy, unshaven face to the wind. There was nothing quite like the salty air of a stiff sou-westerly. Around his feet galloped his latest brood of pups. At 12 weeks old they were quite a handful. Among the whiffy mounds of semidried seaweed, they were terrors. One appeared with the carcass of a dead cormorant, shaking it ferociously. Doug raised his eyebrows and picked up the pup and dead bird with an enormous calloused hand. “Hardly ladylike behaviour, Belle” he spoke down to her. She licked him vigorously in reply. “I’ll be sorry to see you go. Let’s hope you find a good home.” Back at his farm, as he packed straw into the bottom of the dog box in preparation for the journey, he thought about the trip ahead. It was always one of mixed feelings – endings and beginnings, triumphs, tall stories and goodbyes. But it was always worth it.
Jess cantered across the still dusty paddock on her stockhorse, Jewel, following her black and tan crew to the mob of sheep ahead. It had been a harsh few seasons out here in western New South Wales, but her heart was firmly attached to this beautiful land. The recent rains had settled the dust for a few days, and moisture lay in a few pools down in the valley, but it would be a long time before their bank balance was out of the red. Still, there was a long weekend ahead, and she had a trip down south planned. After the recent loss of her most beloved Kimba, she was looking forward to bringing a new pup back north with her, all going well.
John hammered another stake into place and checked the temporary fencing. He gazed around the yards and across the stacks of large square straw bales that would serve as a stadium for the demos on the weekend. It was hard to believe that in three days’ time this place would be packed with people from around the country and probably even overseas. He was so proud of his town and his community. Every year the mountain of work loomed and every year they rose to the challenge. And this one couldn’t be bigger. Twenty years of Kelpie Muster. Twenty years of celebrating a dog that was the result of a happy accident of breeding. Lightweight, good natured, tough and loyal. And incredibly good-looking. He chuckled to himself. A lucky dog in a lucky country. At his side, Astrid sat and looked up at him. He grinned at her “Home time, I reckon. Let’s head.”
Casterton burst into life as Kelpies and their masters from all over the country converged. The morning started with poetry, coffee and freshly baked damper. After the 20th annual parade, people and dogs filled the main street. Over near the Kelpie Sprint, Dave shook hands with Stewart as Frank, Boof and Harry got to know each other and sneaked bits of doughnut from the local kids. James, Audrey and their three children sat together in the stands waiting for the Kelpie High Jump to start. They sat muffled in many layers, savouring the smell of straw, clean air and hot pies. Jess got talking to John at the Kelpie Hill Climb, who introduced her to Doug. She was looking forward to seeing the pups in action at the trials tomorrow. Hopefully her new best mate was here waiting to come home with her. John stood on the truck that doubled as a stage, microphone in hand, and smiled with deep satisfaction across the buzzing crowd. Twenty years of the annual Kelpie Muster. Definitely worth celebrating.

Destination Celebration: Work
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