Kapok Tree: Cochlospermum fraseri.
When we arrived in the Kimberley the kapok trees were in flower. Their brilliant yellow blossoms always look so cheerful. There is a lot of yellow in the bush land—yellow wattle and yellow pea-shaped wildflowers—which contrasts beautifully with the red and blue-violet ranges, and the red rocks and soil.
Both the Kapok flower (which is high in vitamin C) and the taproot (which is roasted) are used as traditional bush tucker (bush food). The roots are also pounded and used in traditional bush medicine to treat sores.
The Kapok is one of the few Australian native deciduous trees. Its leaves fall in winter, before the flowers fully open. At that stage they are pollinated, and the large, globular, green, papery fruit develop, which eventually turn brown and split along the seams to release their small black seeds.
What remains in the split seedpod is a dense mat of fine silky hairs, which is the material that is harvested for use in kapok pillows. I knew these pillows from my childhood. Kapok pillows are not seen in stores in Australia these days, as apparently the fibre is highly flammable and perhaps more suited for use as a fire starter.
Jutburra (formerly Gregory) National Park
This is a place I love. In am thrilled to know that in May 2010 the park was returned to its traditional Indigenous owners and renamed Jutburra National Park.
Travelling north and then slightly east from Victoria River Roadhouse, you will find wonderful, private bush land camp spots in the Jutburra National Park. This is the Northern Territory's second largest national park, a spectacular 13,000 square kilometre wilderness area starting 200 km west of Katherine.
Wedge Tailed Eagle
The Wedge Tailed Eagle is a magnificent, powerful dark brown eagle with a long tail shaped to a wedge like point. It is 88cm-105cm with long fingered wings and feathered legs. You can see it in the sky circling in the thermals above the tops of ranges or regally in dead trees near the roadside and feeding on road kill.
They soar to great heights, and live in deserts, mountains or forest wilderness regions of Australia, from the Kimberley, Central Australia, Cape York, Tasmania and Arnhem Land as well as Southern New Guinea.
Australian rural-lit and historical fiction author and artist Ryn Shell
“We’ll pick up a track running south-west tomorrow.” Constable Green smiled at Jane. “At least this gets us back into the foothills and more cover for tonight.” He moved to the rear, riding in a swerving pattern, frequently glancing over his shoulder.
Cornelius appraised the track ahead for wombat holes and the scrub for any hint of movement. “Tomorrow, we will involve you when we plan our course.” He smiled at Jane. “Just don’t take so long to attend to your morning ritual.”
Jane held the reins loose and allowed her mind to drift to the business she wanted. Her thoughts kept coming back to her surroundings. For the first time since miners had discovered her father’s body at the bottom of a mineshaft, she broke into a smile. This was her future—this country, the Australian bush. She did not need to buy into a dental practice in a city; all she needed was her horse, a packhorse and her tools of the trade. She was nearer than she’d dared to hope to fulfilling her dreams, and she could do it without these men. Twenty-nine, unmarried, and never having been cherished by a sweetheart, Jane couldn’t visualise any man in her future plans.
With excitement she realised that once she was equipped for dentistry work, her professional reputation would precede her through the bush. She did not need protection. She would be safer travelling alone than she ever would be traveling with these men.
Dentists were in high demand. No man would dare harm anyone whose skills were rare and necessary for the rural community.
She would be safe following the travelling hawker routes. Maybe she could buy a cart with her first profits. But where to get the money to begin? Would Cornelius invest in her business? She remembered how he’d appraised her as if he wanted her for breakfast. He would spend money on her, but a man such as that would never do anything to allow her to be independent from him.
There were skills she could use to gain employment, even practicing dentistry. But, the poor wages paid to women would not fund medical supplies; they would barely allow her to support herself. She would not become a cared-for woman nor be forced to marry and lose all material rights. There had to be a way...
Her horse plodded along at a steady pace behind the packhorse as she planned what things she could do. Aside from the money, she knew that to stay healthy you needed food other than salted beef. She could hunt and fish. What she didn’t know she would learn.
Jane gazed around at the diversity of plants. She would learn the local Aboriginal’s languages, enough for them to be friends, for them to trust and teach her what native plants could be eaten to improve her diet.
Gunfire pierced the hot afternoon hush. The horses shied. Cornelius and Constable Green doubled over. Horses screamed.
Jane’s mouth set firm, not a whimper came from her as she fought to control her mount. She pulled back on the reins. The bit cut hard, and her horse bucked. “Steady, steady.”
Her mount whinnied and spun around.
Constable Green slammed sideways onto the ground. Cornelius slithered from the saddle near the water’s edge. He released the reins just in time to roll out of the way of thrashing hooves.
Jane bore herself upright. Blasted highway robbers! “Fine day, lady, where are you headed”—indeed. How was I to know they were thieves when they asked me for directions back in Omeo? She struggled to stay mounted. Fear held her in the saddle—irrational fear. Death did not frighten her, nor these bushrangers. But to fall from grace, to be seen to be beaten—never!
Watching through the trees, Chamberlain lowered his shotgun. “We winged the two men.”
“The woman might give us trouble,” Armstrong said.
“She’s unarmed.” Chambers picked up the reins.
“Let’s finish this.” Armstrong flicked the reins of his horse and charged to where Cornelius lay.
Constable Green struggled to his feet, staggered off the track to where his horse cowered beneath the shade of a kurrajong tree. He grasped the reins and mounted.
The packhorse pricked his ears and turned; Jane stiffened in the saddle, instinctively preparing to follow the packhorse. She glimpsed the determination evident in the set of the constable’s jaw. The trooper’s face grotesquely distorted in pain, blood poured from his left shoulder. Employed as a guard, hired to get the gold safely to a bank in Melbourne, would his instincts tell him that wherever the gold went she would follow?
You think of gold while Cornelius lies injured, Jane? A stab of conscience caused her to hold the reins firm and not take flight. She glanced beyond Constable Green to where the gold dealer Cornelius Hansen lay where he’d fallen. The two men who had asked Jane directions, in the Victorian high country town of Omeo, rode toward him and dismounted. Bushrangers? Would Cornelius blame her?
Jane froze for a moment, focused on the hatchet and the look in a bushranger’s eyes—he would leave no witnesses.
Lord help me. Jane choked back a sudden storm of tears of grief at this reminder of her parents’ recent violent deaths. She blocked that moment of fear and self-pity and turned her focus to the saddlebags. Resolved to survive, and then to acquire her goals, preferably without entanglement with any man, she nudged her mare’s flank with her heels. Jane gave pursuit of a fleeing packhorse carrying fifteen hundred ounces of gold.
The story of Miss Jane Mutta is shared in the Australian rural-lit, historical fiction book Gold by Ryn Shell.
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