A story about the bushranger known only as The Ballarat Bolter, or just Bolter.
Chapters with stars ** will be the main story of the Ballarat Bolter, but feel free to write offshoots. Remember, bushrangers were what started Westerns as a theme.
The Bolter was the only son of a convict father and a transported mother. Irish and Scotch in his blood. He and his father worked for one of the largest cattle barons in the north. They were property outriders, checking and mending fences. He’d thought the whole world was inside those fences, it was so big. The work was hard but honest. The pay wasn’t.
His father was a bastard, in the pejorative sense. He’d work his son in to the ground, then take all the pay and drink it up. He’d come home smelling of rum, or whiskey if it was a large pay, and beat him. His mother would just watch, never once telling him to stop, or trying to intervene. Father would never hit Mother. He’d given up on trying to get on his father’s good side, he’d just be beaten even harder. He grew up hating both of them, though remained obedient, because that was expected of children.
One day when they were out at the furthest paddock his father dropped dead. He wrestled with the idea of just riding away, but didn’t know where he’d go. So he loaded his father’s rotten, metaphorically speaking, body and rode him on back to the farmhouse. His mother was suitably upset. The funeral was nothing to write home about. Some of the other jackaroos came by to pay their respects, the reverend said the usual, and life went back to normal. He became somewhat closer with his mother, but still couldn’t forget the 18 years of standing around, while he was lying on the ground.
The Baron offered him his father’s position, which he accepted gladly. He was staggered at the pay, his father had obviously never been truthful with him about how much it really was. 5 pounds for a month’s work. He wasn’t going to walk away from that without some convincing.
Not long after taking his father’s job, his mother passed away. The whole scene played itself over again, but the Bolter was not too fussed. He was happy because it meant he’d get to hang on to his own money for the first time in his life. Well wishers and such dropped in to have a chin wag, he politely got rid of them. Eventually people stopped coming by, getting the idea that he wasn’t too broken up about the whole deal. He didn’t even go to his own mother’s funeral, preferring to work, which put him in the boss’s good books.
The Baron was a fairly shrewd business man. He had a head for numbers, enjoyed playing games with his customers. With as large a paddock as his, he could dictate terms without much fuss, but goaded his buyers into thinking they might have half a chance of getting a better deal. Which, of course, was as successful as a conversation with a goanna. He’d buy up every scrap of land he could get his greedy hands on, pushing his empire out further and further. His Foreman was a complete and utter drongo. Drunken idiot who liked to get into fights. The Foreman, Richardson, would walk around towns, scaring off any possible opposition, threatening the local meat men. The Bolter worked hard, in his tenure none of the Barons prized short horns got loose.
After a while the Bolter was roped into the big muster. He hated working cattle for two reasons. Cows are bastards in big herds and cattle rustlers. The buggers would no doubt manager to pick off a couple dozen, and since Richardson wouldn’t be around to run the thing himself, he felt confident it would be all his fault and would get a talking to. But he couldn’t pass up the extra pay, so there he was out in the middle of the ranges, storm clouds roiling up above. He and a dozen other blokes were set up and he was off checking the fences, he couldn’t help himself.
When he was on his way back for a bit of tucker, he heard some quiet voices. He ducked behind an innocent looking bush and had a butchers, squinting in the dark. He could see two dark blobs standing by the fence post, one of them had gone berko was waving his arms around. The other one was telling him to belt up.
“Shut your gob,” said an even voice, “You’re going to get us shot, or bloody nicked.”
“I’m not getting nicked for just 10 of these mongrels,” said a second rougher voice. “Why’d we even agree to this anyway?”
“That half-cast said we were gonna get 50 bob per head. Ten is just a nice and even split. Plus that Baron bloke won’t get his undies in a knot over 10 head.”
“You expecting to live long enough to appreciate not being killed tomorrow morning?” the rough voice laughed.
“Better bloody do. This pack of galahs won’t put up too much of a fight. Probably be too buggered to even shoot back.”
The Bolter had been listening carefully. 50 bob per head was a pretty decent price. If he got the other jackaroos out of the way, he could tag along long enough to get this entire group to whoever was going to be paying, almost 200 cows. He made sure his rifle, a beat up old thing, was working properly and stood up from behind the bushes, making his way over to the two blobs.
“Evenin’ lads,” he called out when he got close enough. The two rustlers jumped in shock, the smaller one punching the big one in the arm.
“You useless bastard!” he yelled out.
“Sorry mate,” the big one said gloomily.
“What’s the goss lads?,” the Bolter asked, pointing his rifle at them as he got close enough to see their faces.
“Nothing mate,” said the big one.
“Yeah we were just admirin’ the professional job of these fences. Top notch,” said the smallest one, kicking the post.
“Yeah, it is isn’t it? How are you gonna get it out of the ground for the cows?” he asked looking at them.
“What’s a cow?” asked Small Bloke.
“Big ugly bastard, turns into a nice steak when you kill it. Listen, I want in on your deal.”
“What deal?” asked the Big Bugger, but Small Bloke made a shushing sound.
“Why should we?” he said.
“Why shouldn’t you?” replied the Bolter.
“Because we don’t know you and you could turn us back over to the Baron the moment you get.” The small one said flatly.
“If I was loyal to that smarmy bean-counter don’t you think I would have shot you by now?” he said reasonably.
The Big Bugger and the Small Bloke looked at each other quietly, trying to decide telepathically if they should give this jackaroo the heave-ho or to give him a burl.
“What’s in it for you?” asked Big Bugger.
“I get to shoot through with a heavy wallet. You and your lads get a few bikkies to cut up amongst yourselves, everyone comes up roses.”
“Why so eager to ditch a cushy job?” Small Bloke asked.
“I hate this place and anyone associated with it, generally. Specifically I want to get to Ballarat, get in on some of that gold they seem to be tripping over. This is the first opportunity I’ve found that would see me getting there with more than a pair of shoes and a dream.”
“How very honest of you,” Big Bugger remarked with a laugh.
“Not one for lying really,” Bolter said, shouldering his rifle. “Nothin’ like telling a complete stranger the absolute truth.”
“Amen, brother.” Small Bloke chuckled.