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Wildhorse Creek - Kerry McGinnis

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Published: 1st March 2010
Format: ePUB

From the bestselling author of Pieces of Blue and The Waddi Tree comes a spellbinding novel about loyalty, friendship and first love.

Young Billy Martin runs from home, burying his past in the quest for a future. He finds it in Queensland's spectacular Gulf Country, on the sprawling cattle runs. The Gulf breeds tough men, and Billy is quickly drawn to the excitement and adventure of working with the fiery cattleman and ex-con, Blake Reilly, and his daughter, Jo.

Billy finds mateship, danger and romance in the Gulf, but he also finds an untamed land with a history of violence. In the brooding heat and unpredictable storms, the future he had sought unfolds - in ways as turbulent and unexpected as the country itself - and Billy discovers a place where he can at last belong.


'Heartbreaking one moment but full of hope with the turn of the page.' Adelaide Advertiser

'McGinnis has an ear for the colloquialisms of the bush and keen eyes when it comes to realising the landscape.' The Age

'A compelling read...The landscape flourishes briefly to create tranquil moments of intense beauty and serenity. This is the strange allure of the Gulflands and the essence of McGinnis' passionate storytelling.' HOBART MERCURY

'Anything McGinnis writes begs to be read aloud around a campfire.' COUNTRY STYLE

About the Author

Kerry McGinnis was born in Adelaide and, at the age of twelve, took up a life of droving with her father and three siblings. The family travelled extensively across the Northern Territory and Queensland before settling on a station in the Gulf Country. Kerry has worked as a shepherd, droving hand, gardener, stock-camp and station cook, eventually running a property at Bowthorn, near Mount Isa. She is the author of two volumes of memoir and now lives in Bundaberg.



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Wildhorse Creek

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Kerry McGinnis has done it again!!


from Tasmania

About Me Bookworm

Verified Buyer


  • Engaging Characters
  • Page Turner
  • Suspenseful
  • Well Written


    Best Uses

    • Gift
    • Travel Reading

    Comments about Wildhorse Creek:

    The sort of book you wish didnt end. We want to read more of this family.

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    The first mailrun of the year was always a matter of uncertainty. Keith Guthrie, chucking the heavy canvas bags on at the South-bend post office, wondered if he was even going to make it beyond the town limits. One year his first run had ended on the far side of the Common, and they'd bogged two trucks pulling him out. But that was the Gulf Country for you. Parts of Africa probably had better roads and the seventy-two–seventy-three Wet just ended – if indeed it had, he thought, cocking a jaundiced look at the sky where the fat, white clouds still hovered – had been a big one. In fact he couldn't remember a bigger – unless it was Cyclone Hannah way back in March fifty-one. It had flattened the town and drowned enough cattle to stock a small property. Small by Gulf standards that was – say five or six hundred square miles of country.

    Thank Christ he hadn't been driving the mail then. He wiped his hand down his beard and took another squint at the clouds, his thin rake-like form canted easily against the door of the old Bedford. At least he had no weight today – just enough for traction in the mud.

    All the heavy stuff – the kero drums for Rainsford Downs, a bag of spuds and another of wheat for Mount Ixion, and a thumping great box of parts for Wildhorse Creek – could wait another week, two if he struck trouble this run.

    It was chancy bloody country and that was the truth of it – impassable bogs, washed-out creek crossings, former gutters gouged into ravines to hang up your back end. Sometimes in low-lying spots you found the track itself, rough as guts at the best of times, stripped clean away, grass and all, leaving the bare bones of clay and rock to jar your back teeth loose. He was mad to be still driving it after all these years. But, he reflected, settling himself in the seat, he wasn't alone in that. Half the buggers in the country were off their trolley. Had to be, to stay.

    'Course (his thoughts ran on) it was mostly individualism in need of pruning. (Keith when not driving the mail was a passionate gardener.) What did a man want with such country? Or, more to the point, think that he wanted? All he actually got was isolation, extremes of climate and bloody hard work.

    He glanced at the young hopeful sitting beside him. Another one heading out for his first season on the big runs. The wild, unfenced northern country was a magnet for young stockmen. They held the funny notion that it was romantic – but at least this was a quiet one, not busting his ears with questions like most of 'em did; hardly opened his mouth since they'd met. Keith squizzed him again, seeing a light-built lad of what he'd call average size, with dark hair showing under a ringer's hat. Average sort of face, too. On the thin side, the brown eyes a bit careful and the shadow of a mo on his upper lip, so at least he was shaving – twenty maybe and knew it all for a bet. To Keith's cynical eye the stock camp fodder that made up the bulk of his passengers looked younger every year. Well, a gate opener was company, someone to chew the fat with on the long track.

    'What did you say your name was, son?'

    'I didn't.' The young man turned his head to meet the shrewd gaze above the startling spread of beard. 'But it's Billy Martin.'

    'Right. New to the area, eh? So, where're you heading?'

    'Wherever there's work. Bloke at the pub said riding the mail was the way to go.' He adjusted the quarter window so that the blast of warm air played on his heated body. His skin was slicked with sweat and he used the flat of his hand to wipe his dripping cheeks. 'It always this hot in April?'

    'Ah, it's just a bit of humidity,' Keith dismissed the heavy air though he lifted his arms to ease the weight of his sodden shirt. 'Big Wet. Road's only been open a week – good chance we won't get no further than the Mount. That's the first stop. End of the line's Brancaster and they'll be wetted in for another month. It's only a spit from the coast there – they'll have had sixty, seventy inches I shouldn't wonder.'

    'Yeah?' Billy sounded impressed by the figures. 'That's some rain. Big place?'

    'Average. 'Bout fifteen hundred miles. They're a mad lot of buggers any road – you wouldn't wanna work there.'

    'That right? What makes them mad?'

    'Dunno. Something in the water, maybe.' Keith changed down to charge a patch of wet-looking track, a manoeuvre that flung his passenger about as the back end of the vehicle fishtailed violently until they were through.

    Billy righted his hat and rubbed the elbow he'd banged into the door and twisted to look at their tracks. 'Bit soft – you get bogged much?' Long thin puddles lay alongside the track, the grass beside them a brilliant green. The passing countryside was a mixture of broken plains and light scrub thickly smothered in feed yellowing at the top where the seeds had formed and were drying. Here and there an area of deeper colour showed up quaggy acres of swamp and gilgai holes. A vehicle body abandoned in the grass displayed a large evangelical sign along its rusted side: JESUS SAVES, it read. Underneath in smaller capitals some wit had added: WITH THE ANZ.

    'Don't even think about it,' Keith warned. 'This is just a trial run. First dodgy stretch I'm turning back. I'm paid to deliver the mail, not bust me guts in a bog.'

    'Still, must happen sometimes.'

    'Damn right. This country's a proper bastard. It'll bog you, perish you, ruin you. Freeze your balls off in winter, roast your eyes out in summer, and that's without the dust and the flies. You wait – the plagues of Egypt's got nothing on it.' Keith warmed to his theme. 'It's the arse end of the continent. You find yourself stuck somewhere needing a bit o' wire for repairs and there ain't a fenceline within a hundred bloody miles. And as for somebody coming by!' He snorted disgustedly.

    'I heard it was big – open-range country.'

    'Yeah. Not a boundary fence between here and the coast. There's horse paddocks, of course. The country's rotten with brumbies – there's some now,' His chin jerked sideways and leaning forward Billy saw them through the driver's window, an indeterminate mass of galloping bodies, mostly brown and bay, off in the scrub. 'And the odd holding paddock for bullocks. Well, that's how it's been. Be changing though when the government gets this disease control program going.'

    'What's that then?' Billy instinctively ducked as they charged through a long sheet of water and a muddy spray arced across the windscreen.

    'Bugger!' Keith switched the wipers on to scrape the reddish mess aside. 'Oh, some campaign the Primary Industry mob's starting up – testing cattle for disease. TB and brucellosis. Point is the stations are gunna have to fence to implement it. It's not gone down too well with the cattlemen.' He lifted a hand from the wheel to brush his beard. 'See, when it started in the inside country they all reckoned they'd be exempt out here. This country's too big for testing, they said. And how were they gunna control the scrubbers – that's wild cattle, to you – and what about the wild pigs? Seems they can carry tuberculosis too. Talked 'emselves into thinking it couldn't happen round here. But the government's going ahead with it. So you mighta got here just in time, son.' He waved an expansive hand at the landscape. 'Before she's all cut up and nailed down just like everywhere else.'

    'Take a bit of doing though, won't it?' Billy ventured. 'Whose country are we driving through here?'

    'Right here? The Mount. Axel Cooper's place.'

    'What size is it? Do you know?'

    'Yep. Twelve hundred.'

    'Square miles,' Billy affirmed, doing sums in his head. The result caused him to whistle. 'That's a lot of fencing wire.'

    'Not as much as they'll need on Rainsford Downs,' Keith said with relish. 'That's twenty-seven hundred. And we're just talking the boundary. They've gotta have internal fencing too. So they can hold tested cattle apart from the untested stock when they're mustering. You can see why the graziers are a bit upset.'

    'So how many stations are we talking?'

    'Round here? There's Mount Ixion, that's the Coopers. Family property. Wildhorse Creek – the Reillys have got that. Rainsford Downs, comp'ny owned. There's Rumhole – belongs to Ken Walker. Plover Creek, 'nother small joint, and Brancaster which – ah, shit!'

    'What's up?' The truck was slowing on a bend. Billy craned forward to see the spread of water before them. It must've rained quite recently for the tracks of the vehicle they'd been following had vanished. He could see where it had negotiated the wet patch, but now only the tops of the deep wheel tracks where it had cut into the mud were visible. The rest were under water. 'You going through?' he asked as they came to a stop.

    For answer Keith switched off and climbed out, staring slowly about him as he stood and rolled a smoke. Billy got out too. It was cooler in the open. He pinched his shirt away from his body while his ears were assailed with the strident hum of insects. Bush flies mobbed him but he could see, and hear, a dozen other species from dragonflies to cicadas drilling the warm air with their noise. He trod experimentally to the water's edge, feeling the mud slide and give under his boot. The top few inches were very soft. Keith meanwhile had circled to the left where a dozen blackheart coolibah trees were scattered through grass that came to his waist. His disreputable felt hat hung over his brow as he stamped and pondered, skinny hands astride his hips over which his khaki shorts seemed in danger of slipping. When he had seen enough he returned to the road, wading out of the grass like some skinny water bird, his boots clogged with mud. Then to Billy's bewilderment he pulled a billycan from inside the spare tyre and proceeded to fill it from a drum lashed to the headboard.

    'Get a fire going, will you, son?' he said. 'Might as well have a cuppa. Bit more sun on the road won't do it no harm at all.'

    They drank it squatting on their heels in the long shade of the truck. The cicadas sang shrilly and the engine ticked as it cooled. Mosquitos hovered and Billy, contemplating what he could see of the wet track, ventured a question. 'You gunna go round it, off road?'

    'Can't think of a better way to end in the shit.' Keith flicked the dregs from his cup and smeared a mosquito in a bloody trail across his wrist. 'Straight through. This bit of road's got a fair bottom to it. We'll put the tracks down first, but. You wanna hop up and chuck 'em off?'

    Passengers were obviously expected to work. The tracks were heavy sheets of holed metal more than the width of a tyre and as long as the truck. They positioned them astride the water, which Billy saw had shrunk to a surprising degree while they waited. The steel was hot and the edge of it cut into his hands as he slithered and slipped behind Keith, trudging steadily ahead. He waited then in sodden, muddy boots, while the mailman returned to the truck, revved the engine and charged through. Prying the tracks free of the suction of the mud and reloading them was hot and dirty work. Keith drew off another billycan of water which they took turns to pour over each other's hands before throwing the remainder over the dirty windscreen. The wipers shifted most of the mud and they were ready to continue.

    'How long you been driving the mail?' Billy asked.

    'Too bloody long,' Keith grunted.

    'So what happens if you get bogged?'

    'Dig yourself out. And if you can't,' he jerked his thumb at the roof of the cab where a portable transceiver was locked into sturdy brackets, 'give the nearest station a shout. One of these days Main Roads'll make it this far and turn this goat track into a proper highway. I should live so long.'

    'They probably felt the same further south,' Billy said, 'but I noticed a fair stretch of built-up road coming north from Windsor Creek, and a big plant working on it. There's another one heading for Normanton. Beef Roads, the signs say.'

    'My eye. Defence Roads they are. Just like the Stuart Highway was, back during the war. Suits the government to pretend they're doing something for the voters, that's all. I reckon Vietnam's finally made somebody in Canberra look at a map and they seen what little access there is up here. That where you from then – the Creek?'

    'I worked on a property there. And over the Tablelands before that,' Billy said. A corner post caught his eye and he jerked his thumb, 'What's the fence?'

    'Horse paddock. We're coming up to the Mount. See you chain the gate good. Cooper's kinda fussy 'bout his horses.'

    'Right.' Billy reached for the doorhandle, swung down and stood a moment with the muddy truck behind him, reading the metal scroll inset in a frame in the centre of the gate: Mount Ixion Station. Cooper and Sons 1913.

    He pushed it open wondering, with a grin for Keith's opinion of the present-day road, what sort of goat track it must have been when the sign was first erected.

    ISBN: 9780143205463
    ISBN-10: 0143205463
    Audience: General
    Format: Paperback
    Language: English
    Number Of Pages: 384
    Published: 22nd November 2010
    Country of Publication: AU
    Dimensions (cm): 19.9 x 13.1  x 2.8
    Weight (kg): 19.9
    Edition Number: 1