At the end of the day, the heat gave way to a strong southerly wind blowing off the ocean. The new immigrants sifted through their luggage for coats and scarves for the first time since their
Kit left Clara with Margaret and hurried to her tent. She took a long woollen coat from her bag and buttoned it over her skirts to prepare to meet Finley. When she arrived, he was standing outside
his tent, a long grey coat reached down to his boots and his hair tossed wildly in the wind.
“I have a surprise for you,” he said.
“Yes, but first we need to get the stores.”
“I have the money right here.” She delved into a small carpetbag purse.
“No, don’t worry about that. I have an arrangement in place with Mr Chan. He owes me a favour. He has the stores waiting for us.”
Kit followed Finley to the stores tent and stopped outside. Finley whistled once.
The cook emerged clutching a hessian bag. He peered around him before shoving the bag into Finley’s hands.
“If you caught, you tell no one where you got it, right?"
“That’s the arrangement,” Finley answered.
“Missus,” the man said. He bowed slightly to Kit before disappearing into the tent.
“Why would anyone care about a bit of flour and sugar?” Kit asked.
“It’s not about what we’ve taken, but about who we’re giving it to. No one wants to be seen helping the blacks around here.”
“Well, it’s wrong. Barungerin helped my daughter and I’m sure there is a lot they could teach us about native medicine if we’d only let them.”
Finley pushed up the brim of his hat and raised his brow. “Thinking like that could get you into a lot of trouble.”
“I don’t care. I’ll not have anyone telling me what to think.”
“Well, we’d better get this to the beach.” He slung the hessian bag over his shoulder.
“But I can’t go to their camp with you.”
“That’s part of the surprise. Follow me.”
He led her to the beach and onto the sand. She clutched at her coat, lifting its collar around her long neck as she tried to follow closely, using Finley as a buffer against the biting
wind. They continued down the beach to the end of the quarantine zone. It was nearing dark, and Kit had to peer closely to recognise the forms of five people emerging from the shelter of large
rocks amongst the dry grass just off the beach.
Kit recognized the figure of Barungerin. He was dressed appropriately for the cooler weather in a kangaroo skin cape fastened at the neck. The others stood back while he came forward to meet Finley
Barungerin hugged Finley then stepped towards Kit, startling her when he threw an arm around her and pulled her in close, patting her hard on the back before letting go.
“Thank you for coming here to meet me,” she said.
“It ain’t no problem. How your daughter be?”
“Thanks to you, she is recovering well. She owes you her life.”
He laughed and turned around to the others. He spoke a few words to them and held his arms out to his sides with his palms facing up. They nodded their approval.
“You keep her away from them snakes now, Kit, they nasty buggers, especially them brown ones.” He elbowed Finley in the ribs.”But they taste bloody good don’t they, Fin?”
Finley nodded and patted his stomach. “When we were kids, Barungerin cooked us up one of those snakes and I’ve never tasted anything like it in my life.”
Kit looked from Finley to Barungerin, waiting for them to laugh at the joke, but their expressions remained unchanged.
“And what about those witchetty grubs,” Finley said. He grouped his fingers and kissed the tips. “I’ve tried to cook them up myself, but you have the magic touch. Mine tasted like charcoal.”
“You had the fire too hot. You got to cook them slow.”
Finley crossed his brow and nodded at the information.
Kit's stomach churned at the image in her head. “Grubs? Now you are joking, aren’t you?”
“I never joke when it comes to me tucker, Missus,” Barungerin said.
“Well, I don’t have any snakes or grubs for you to cook, but what I have brought you is some flour, sugar and tea. Kit gestured at the sack in Finley’s hands.
Finley placed the sack on the ground and removed the smaller bags of food and placed them on the sand.
The other members of the tribe pushed past Kit and took an item, talking excitedly to each other.
She stepped back and watched them open the cloth sacks and dive their hand in and taste the contents.
“Thanks, Missus,” Barungerin said.
“You are quite welcome.”
“I could explain to you how to use these if you wish.”
“Nah, you don’t need to do that. We get these things from town when we got something to trade. I like tea, but coffee is better.”
“Well then, I shall see what I can do about getting you some.”
“We won’t be around for much longer, Missus. We got to move where the food is. We be going further down the coast soon where there are more rocks and mussels to eat. We might be back in a few
“I wish you and your people well.” She glanced around at the tribe to include them.
Finley and Barungerin hugged once more and the tribe moved away.
Kit moved next to Finley. “How can they live like that?”
“They can’t be doing too badly, considering they’ve been living like that for tens of thousands of years.”
“But they have no home; they just wander from one place to the other.”
“The land is their home. It doesn’t matter to them where they are, they are always home.”
“And talking about homes, when are you going to start building mine?” She nudged him gently with an elbow.
“Oh, late next year sometime, I expect. Or maybe the year after.”
“Don’t tease me, Finley.”
“When this lot of passengers moves on, we’re bringing in labour from town. We’ll finish the stores building, the hospital, and then we’ll start on your cottage, and one for Doc.”
“Tom will be living here, at the station, with me and Clara.”
“Yep. He’ll be settling here with you. Why, is there anything wrong with that?”
“No, no problem that I can see. Let’s get back. It’s bloody cold out here.”
“Why Kit, I’ve never heard you curse before!”
“That must be your unseemly influence, young Mr Grant.”
They walked off the beach and on to the well-worn path leading to the station.
“Tell me,” Finley said. “How is it that a girl from Liverpool talks like a lady from a well-to-do household, but came here travelling in steerage?”
“My mother worked as a housemaid for a wealthy businessman’s family. My family lived in a small cottage on their property. When the lady of the house brought in a governess to
educate her children privately, she permitted us to sit in on the lessons. It was she who taught me how to speak like someone of a higher station.”
“So, she taught you how to pretend.”
“I’m not pretending, Finley.” She pushed him gently on the arm.
“I was only joking with you.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever quite get used to your sense of humour.”
“Oh, you will. I’ll grow on you; you can count on it.”
The two walked back towards their tents, parting at the cottage.
Kit made her way back to her tent and as she neared, heard moaning coming from within.
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