Glossary

The Territorian = Bar in Darwin. Owner: Ivan "no women in here"

Magarri = Aboriginal stockman and friend (better: narrative sidekick) of the Drover

Preparations

Mrs. Carney would be significantly surprised if she knew that her future son-in-law pilfers her iron. Since she doesn´t pay much attention to household items – it´s a diffuse issue servants are concerned with – her comment would probably be: "But why don´t you just give your laundry to the maid?" In Mrs. Carney´s world a station manager and soon-to-be cattle king ironing his clothes by himself is an anomaly one deals best with by denying its existence as far as possible.

But the maid doesn´t have to know how frequently Mr. Fletcher need his shirts crease-free. Nor does she need to know when he takes five extra minutes to brush his hat properly – or when he uses the special sandlewood aftershave that costs a jackaroo´s weekly salary but, unlike the cheap stuff they sell in the shacks at Wharf Precinct, doesn´t smell like rotting flowers. If somebody, out of sheer interest, would dig deeper, said somebody might find out that there is indeed a frequency, and against all expectations it doesn´t depend on the day of the week. As a matter of fact the system follows a way more complicated rota, and it almost seems as if it´s contingent on the arrival of the cattle droves. But that´s an assumption so absurd the secret investigator would eventually come to the conclusion that he has obviously overrated the subject and drop it. Neil Fletcher just likes his stuff clean and tidy, that´s all.

The Drover has never given a Dingo´s poo for tidiness – not beyond a reasonable level that allows him to find his underpants with one grip, even in the blackest night – and recently he has become even more careless. Particularly at the end of a drove, a couple of days before they reach town, Magarri doubts his boss´s common sense. When other men haul out the soap and start looking for a nail to put the shaving mirror on, the Drover drives his brumby into a creek, then dismounts and spends the rest of the afternoon strutting through the bush where it´s dustiest, until his boots and trousers are caked with a firm layer of puce mud – in order to "give the horse a rest", as he says.

Even if there is a fresh shirt left, it stays in his swag. Or worse: he takes it out forty eight hours before their arrival in Darwin, and when they ride into town it´s drenched with two days´ sweat and the aroma of horse and leather. At least the bucket that replaces the shower is allowed to fulfil its duty until the second last night in the bush. There is sweat and there is old sweat, and the Drover is aware of the difference.

The cattle have been brought into the stockades, the dust has settled. In the bright midday sun the Drover walks down the main street. On the porch of The Territorian Neil Fletcher approaches. As they pass each other the Drover brushes the other man´s hip, leaving a rust-coloured stain. He doesn´t seem to heed, walks on with the rhythmic creak of the floor boards underlining his slow, confident pace.

Fletcher has stopped. Let´s suppose our stealthy investigator happens to be still around, he might be astonished to see him smile. For a moment he stands silently, heads atilt as if he would listen to a distant sound. In an absentminded attempt to swipe the muddy streak away he spreads it widely over his pants and the pristine white shirt. Then he turns around and follows the Drover past the bar and into a narrow passage that leads to the yard in the back of the pub.

Neil Fletcher likes his stuff clean and tidy. But sometimes clean and tidy things need a bit of a stain to shine brighter.