We were equipped with only an apple, a bottle of water, a dog, and a warning to watch out for snakes. Then we were dumped at the railway line with a few hundred sheep. It was slave labour, I tell you. We were like the children of the industrial revolution, except our faces were pink from sunburn instead of black from coal. I’d dread the clop clop of my stepfather’s Blundstone’s on the verandah, knowing he was going to peer into my bedroom window and ask if I was busy.
Was I busy? It was the Christmas holidays. I was stranded on a farm, miles from friends and ice cream shops. Of course I wasn’t busy.
“Can you babysit the sheep this afternoon?”
The summers were always dry, there was never enough for the sheep to eat. There was an old railway line that spliced our farm in two, choked with grass and other culinary delights of the baavine variety. So with council permission, we were allowed to let our sheep graze there.
But someone had to watch the bastards, to make sure they didn’t fall down a ramp or get their stupid woolly arses stuck in a barbed wire fence. So Rhi and I had to sit there for anywhere up to five hours, one on each side of the tracks, while the stupid sheep wandered and nibbled ever so slowly.
Mum had ferreted through her linen cupboard and presented us with two ancient brown bathmats to sit on. So we sat there sweltering on our mats like little genies. We’d read our books, sip our water, glare at the sheep. We’d sneak up onto the tracks and be Olympic gymnasts on the beam. We’d lay down and scream helplessly after being tied to the railway line by an Evil Villain.
When we got bored of that, we’d sit back down and shout at each other over the line. I must have been about 10, Rhi was 8. We had such deep, shouty conversations.
“Do you think we’ll get anything good for Christmas?”
“You know what? This sucks.”
“Jesus was a shepherd, wasn’t he?”
“No he was a carpenter. But if he was a shepherd I bet he wouldn’t be sitting on a bathmat.”
“Yes, one of the disciples would have made him a chair.”
“And brought him an ice cream.”
We’d pause to let resentment and self-pity boil in our blood for awhile. Grrrrrr.
Then we’d decide what we’d do when we won Lotto. We wouldn’t give a cent to our stepfather, as revenge for making us child slaves. We then verbally furnished our new mansion, room by room. I talked about the books I’d write while living by the sea. Rhi talked about the barrels of money she’d have from her five-star restaurants and hotels. We vowed to leave the sheep and the snakes far behind and take on the world.