The following is an excerpt from the book ‘Ridgeview Station’, which you can purchase here.
Many of Peter and Kelsie Dalton’s friends thought they were crazy when they bought Ridgeview Station. But five years on, their hard work, help from Kelsie’s parents, and record rainfall have them in high spirits as the summer muster approaches.
Realising they’re going to need more help this season, Peter rings around the neighbouring stations to try and find a good worker. After a glowing recommendation, Alexi arrives to give them a hand – and is not at all what they’d expected …
Everything is going smoothly with the muster before disaster strikes and the Dalton’s find themselves battling to save their livestock, their property and their lives.
An entertaining yarn set on a vast outback property peopled with colourful and authentic characters, Ridgeview Station is about love, loss and the spirit of the bush.
Even before the willy-willies hit, bits of burning grass and embers were being sucked in and spewed out, then carried over into the unburnt country across the break. When the willy-willies met the fire front, they sped up, fuelled by the extra heat in the flames that were carried high into the air by the vortex. Within moments, the front had changed from gentle lapping waves to a stormy surge.
Everyone could only watch as the now fiery twisters crossed the road. The roar was immense, and they all had to hang back while burning flecks were flung out everywhere. Only a few moments later, the willy-willies ran out of puff, disappearing into a few wisps of ash and dust that rolled over the land. In their wake, they left a multitude of spot fires, all rapidly growing, fanned by the wind; they spread and merged and carried on forwards.
‘Ash!’ yelled Jack into his two-way. ‘Clear us a path, mate. I can’t get the grader in there. Knock over the bushes, go round the trees. We haven’t got time, mate, just go!’
Ash was already on his way. He lowered the bucket and raced through as fast as he could, only stopping to empty when the load became too great. Behind him, Jack was cutting the grass back to bare earth.
‘Get along the edge of it, close as you can,’ Jack said, guiding the inexperienced Ash.
‘Coming up behind you both,’ said Kelsie, ‘so don’t swing out!’ She called out to Murray. ‘Hang on, mate, we’re gonna buck!’ She drove straight past the machines, crunching over branches and through the small bushes. She winced when a stick screeched its way down the cab, but she pushed through and got alongside the flames. ‘Drown the bastard, Murray!’
Murray opened the nozzle and water shot forward. He aimed at the fire’s base, soaking the tussocks.
Kelsie directed him, yelling out the window. ‘Keep it off the ute, Murray! Spray out in front of us!’ A fine mist came into the cab as Murray adjusted his aim, dousing the flames near Kelsie’s front wheel. In the passenger seat, Alexi sat upright, scanning ahead for stumps and rocks while Kelsie watched the fire. ‘Perfect,’ she shouted to Murray, ‘keep it out like that and we’ll get this bastard yet!’
They rolled forward as fast as they could, stopping only for Murray to make sure each area was soaked enough. Once he called out, ‘Hey, the bugger lit again behind us. Back up, Kelsie.’ She did, then proceeded again once he was happy that the spot fire was out for good.
They were flanking the flames, trying to get around to the front to cut them off, but it was slow going. The fire was moving faster than they could catch it.
Ash and Jack roared past Kelsie. Above them, the plane circled.
Jacks voice broke through the rattle of the fire unit. ‘Getting rocky down here, Pete. Dunno if we can cut it clean enough.’
‘Just do what you can,’ Pete said. ‘Kelsie isn’t far behind you, and they’ve snuffed it out so far.’
Kelsie saw the dust cloud ahead of her that signalled they were close to the machines again. But her heart sank as she noticed the rocky ground they were trying to cut through. In some patches, the machines barely made a mark on the grass.
‘Dad, it’s jumped behind you already!’ she yelled into the two-way, watching as the flames spread out in front of them.
‘Christ, look out, then.’
Moments later, the grader appeared, going full tilt in reverse. It skidded to a halt, then charged out after the breakaway fire and vanished into the smoke. Kelsie was torn between following her father and trying to extinguish the flames near her ute, when Jack called on the radio.
‘It’s in the thicket, and I can’t get through there.’ He paused. ‘I think it’s got the better of us, love.’
At first, Kelsie refused to give in, still chasing down the flames in the ute. But when she heard the pump engine splutter, and the fine mist from Murray’s hose stopped drifting through her open window, she knew her dad was right. They were dry. By the time they filled up again, all their work would have been for nothing.
Kelsie slammed her hand against the steering wheel in frustration. Then she leaned out the window. ‘Shut her down, Murray. We’re done here.’
Pete confirmed this. ‘Jack, Ash, turn around, guys. It’s too far gone. All we can do is get it on the next fence.’
‘There’s no way we’ll stop it there!’ said Kelsie. ‘That fence is overgrown as hell and that part of the paddock is thick.’
‘Well, we can’t catch it here, either,’ said Pete, frustration in his voice. ‘It’s too big. I’ll get your mum to ring the shire, see what they’ve got to help.’
Kelsie didn’t answer. She made room for Alexi, who was shuffling over as Murray climbed in. His eyes had a tinge of red and he was sniffling from the smoke. The three sat in silence while they drove back to the tank, until Alexi spoke.
Kelsie took a while to answer. ‘We pray for rain, Alexi. We pray for rain.’
Want to read more? Purchase ‘Ridgeview Station’ here.
Michael Trant is a WA country boy just beginning his new life as an author, following a wide range of careers from marine draftsman to farmer, and pastoralist to FIFO pot-washer. Michael is now based in Perth, having grown up on the family farm at Eneabba, before moving to Geraldton then out to Yalgoo. His debut novel Ridgeview Station was inspired by his time on Gabyon Station, and he highly recommends a visit for those curious about life on a sheep station.
When he’s not writing, Michael can be found plucking away at his guitar in attempts to replicate his idol Tommy Emmanuel, or swearing at his beloved Fremantle Dockers. He still travels to Three Springs to drive tractors ‘just to keep my hand in,’ but despite the advent of autosteer machines, refrains from taking the laptop to write, as that would not end well for power poles, fences or trees.
Michael began writing with his highly successful blog – ‘A Farmers Way of Life,’ where he used humour and anecdotes to give an insight into life on a family farm. The blog is now archived, and he has commenced work on Wydjawanna Writer, taking the name from the original title of Ridgeview Station.