9 years earlier….before the Boer War
Bystanders stood entranced as they watched the Lyons family slowly proceed down Mackay’s dusty street. 1890 was to be the year of change. The family had been looking forward to moving from the isolation of their cattle station near the outback village of Banana. Mackay, a growing town on the coast, represented a new start. As William held the reins in his hands, he glanced sideways at the groups of onlookers by the road’s edge. Without so much as a wave of his hand or tilt of his hat, he quickly returned his focus on the road ahead, mesmerized by the clip clopping of the horses hooves. His mother Mary sat beside him, her black gloved hands clasped tightly together, holding his three year old brother Austin firmly on her lap. His two brothers John and Edwin, along with his sisters Lilly and Tottie followed in sulkies forming a procession that marked the beginning of a new life, but it was not the beginning that they had hoped for.
Keeping his horse clip clopping at an even pace, William made sure his sulky kept a safe distance from the vehicle that led the procession directly in front of him. He desperately tried not to look beyond his horses bobbing head, but black ostrich plumes flickered in his peripheral vision; fluttering their fickle fingers of death, as a cruel reminder that anyone, at any time, can be struck off this living earth forever. Thoughts of his Father consumed him with a tiredness that fell heavily on his head and shoulders, pushing his weary eyes to fall upon the horse drawn hearse ahead.
He remembered his father worrying about his Mother being alone so much out there in the Dawson Valley. “Son,” He had said, “I worry about the blacks. One day, yer Ma might just not be able to fend them off.”
“But, I can shoot a gun!” he had chided, disappointed that his Father lacked confidence in his ability.
Being the eldest child, he always felt it was his responsibility to look after his Mother. That was how it was in the bush. Their nearest neighbours were miles away and the only way to seek help was by horseback or bullock dray. Admittedly, there had been some close calls.
Memories of awaking in the middle of the night by the crack of a rifle, still clung to his being, as if it had happened yesterday. Padda was away and Ma come rushing into his room in a flustered state.
“Will, are ye awake?” His Mother’s whispering voice was agitated, bordering on panic.
They quietly awoke the younger children and ushered them safely beneath Ma’s bed. They then felt their way along the darkness of the hallway, into the sitting room, where they leaned against the front wall of the homestead, peering through gaps in the timber slats. The dim grey moonlight came filtering through the gap between the heavy hand knitted curtains and the window, bouncing softly off the cold metal of Ma’s loaded gun.
Startled by a volley of gunfire, they could then hear yelling voices and galloping hooves of horses hitting the hardened dirt outside. All they could do was wait in fear, hoping the moment would pass. There was a deathly silence followed by heavy boots sounding on the verandah floor and then a rapping on the front door. William and Mary looked at each other, frozen to the spot, unable to speak.
“Mr Lyons!”a gruff voice yelled from the other side of the door. “tis the Police!”
William and Mary immediately recognized the voice of the local Police Sergeant.
“I’m so glad tis you Sergeant!” blurted Mary as she unbolted the door. “My John is away.”
“You’re lucky my Constable and I were doing our patrols tonight, Mrs Lyons.” He said. “We spotted a group of aborigines lurking awful close to your homestead. They were armed with spears and knives.”
“Oh Lord!” Mary made the sign of the cross with her spare hand.
“Was anyone shot?” William asked as he placed his arm around his Mother’s shoulders.
The Policeman nodded his head in reply. “One man. We’ve rounded up the others. We’ll wait until first light and take them into town.”
“You know, Mrs Lyons,” his voice was one of concern as he looked down at the gun in her hand. “you might not be so lucky next time. I hope you know how to use that there thing in your hand.”
William knew in his heart that his father had made the right decision to sell the property and resettle in Mackay. He too had feared a “next time”. As the procession neared the Mackay Cemetery gates, he already knew what his own future would hold. Like his Pada, he had made a life-changing decision. He knew with an unshakable certainty what he wanted to do with his life. He loved the outdoors and riding horses, the things he loved most about their life in the bush. Living in the bush had also taught him the importance of defending the wellbeing of those who are precious in his life.
‘Yes, Pada, I’m going to make you proud.’ He spoke aloud as he watched his father’s coffin being transported through the cemetery gates. ‘I’m going to join the Militia, so I can make a difference in this God forsaken world!’