The Unexpected Husband(10)

By: Lindsay Armstrong

Then, a few weeks ago, he’d written again to say that he was having the time of his life mustering cattle, that it was also wonderful experience for a vet interested in large animals, but for business and personal reasons he needed to take six weeks off and would she be interested in filling in for him? He’d assured her that the Simpson family, who ran Katerina Station, would welcome her enthusiastically and provide accommodation for her in the main homestead—when she wasn’t sleeping under the stars with the rest of the mustering team.

That had done it. She’d gone, cap in hand, to the senior partner of the practice she was working for in Sydney and showed him the letter. He’d given her six


weeks’ leave and added enviously, ‘Half your luck, Lydia!’

She was now staring down at the grassy plains, rolling savanna and rocky outcrops of the Victoria River District, known locally as the VRD, as it glided past below. It was a fine, clear day and the sky was huge, so was the panorama beneath it, giving Lydia a sense of the vastness and the emptiness of the ancient continent she called home.

The VRD supported one of the most successful graz ing enterprises in northern Australia, but to look down upon it you wouldn’t think a soul lived in it.

The station pilot was young and friendly, and he smiled at her wonderment and took an extra ten minutes to show her the various sets of cattle yards and bores as proof that cattle did exist in large numbers, then he buzzed the Katerina homestead to alert the occupants of his imminent arrival.

He also filled her in about the Simpson family. ‘Sarah is a daughter of the pioneering family that started Katerina,’ he explained. ‘She and her brother inherited it, but when she married she divided her share with her husband, Roif, and he actually manages the place.’

‘What about the brother?’ Lydia asked.

‘He spends time here, he’s still the major shareholder, but he doesn’t live here—look, there’s a mob on the way to the main yards.’

Lydia stared down at the dust being raised by a mob of cattle as they were moved along by horsemen.

‘Do you only muster by horseback?’ she asked. ‘I thought most of it was done by chopper these days.’

‘Used to be, for a time, but the ringer’s coming back into fashion nowadays. You can’t educate a bunch of cows from a chopper.’

‘Does that mean you’ll be out of a job?’ He’d already told her he piloted a Bell 45 helicopter too.

‘Nope! We work in conjunction. Choppers still have their uses in really difficult terrain and for moving large mobs. OK, here we go.’

He set the light plane down on a grass airstrip in what looked like the middle of nowhere until a large shed came into view.

Lydia emerged as the dust settled. She breathed deeply and looked around. Tim had confided that being a vet did not necessarily confer any special status on a member of this mustering team. They did most of their vet work themselves, and how you rode and handled cattle was the prime consideration—although some of the bigger stations did employ vets as vets.

She’d found this amusing, because he’d also told her that Katerina Station covered a million acres. What was big if not that? she’d pondered. But he’d gone on to say that once they’d realised you knew what you were talk ing about and doing, you’d find them deferring to you. So, she would have to prove herself first, she reflected. It would be a nice kind of challenge.

She turned as she heard a vehicle approaching, ex pecting either Sarah or Roll Simpson. But as another cloud of dust started to subside as it skidded to a stop beside her, a pale gold Labrador dog leapt off the back of the battered utility and raced towards her, only to sit down in front of her and extend a paw.

‘Hello!’ Lydia squatted down in front of the dog and - shook the paw gravely. ‘And who might you be? I have to tell you I think you’re gorgeous, and so well mannered.’

The dog grinned widely and a voice above Lydia said,

‘Glad you approve of my dog. OK, Meg, back in the ute.’

Meg obeyed, but not before giving the owner of the voice a loving lick as he put his hand down to her.