Kuraman = Fictitious desert in the movie. Yes, you got that right. Baz Luhrman invented it only for dramatic reason
Brumby = Half feral outback horse (author´s note: tends to pop up in front of cars and other vehicles unexpectedly, especially by night)
Crocs fly = The do. They jump right out of the water to catch a bird or a fruit bat or a piece of meat a nervous tourist dangles in front of their nose. They run ´Jumping Croc Cruises´ up there in Darwin. Truefax.
Good on yer = Aussie slang for ´Well done´
The Northern Standard = Newspaper in the movie
He was not prepared for it. As a matter of fact no one was, not after the report in The Northern Standard. Sarah Ashley and her bunch of boongs were lost in the Kuraman, half a dozen neat little piles of bleached bones, one of them the Drover´s. There was no point in pitying them; they had brought it upon themselves. The land was unforgiving, at least the Drover should have known that, and Neil Fletcher hadn´t wasted any more thought on them.
Not the Drover
Busy days for Carney´s station manager. Cattle had to be mustered and cattle had to be shipped and wasn´t it a relief certain problems had solved themselves in secret? From his lookout close to the telephone, the only one in town except that in Captain Dutton´s office, Fletcher had a good view at his future. A future covered with red dust and cow dung, admittedly, but a brighter one than most people could hope for. There was `Cattle King Fletcher` written across the horizon and beneath the dust he could see the gold glitter.
But that was before the tea in Mrs. Carney´s precious bone china cup started to form rings. It was before the telegraph wires began to resonate, reverberating the vibration of six thousand hooves. And then a brigade of short horns came thundering down the main street and it was that woman, the one he would have rather taken a lashing from than admitted how deeply she scared him. She stopped her thoroughbred right under Captain Dutton´s balcony, while the herd was carrying on, guided, led and driven down the wharf by nobody else than the Drover.
But time was running out. Carney´s prize-winning bulls were already on the walkway to the boat. The Drover took a shortcut right through the stockades and he, Fletcher, had yelled "Open the bloody crush!" and dashed to the gates, in a race he could nothing but lose. Though the gate snapped at the right time and for a moment the Drover seemed to be caught inside the fence, on his nervously prancing brumby. The men were bawling and cat-calling and he, Fletcher, had climbed the fence and screamed "You´ve missed the boat, sunshine!", drunk with sick, evil joy, while deep down under his ribs a dull green nausea did a slow somersault, washing words to the surface, words that wanted to be puked out like undigested chunks of a spoilt meal.
Don´t let us win
But you can´t puke out yourself, and while he was still wondering why the taste of victory left nothing than bitterness on his tongue, the Drover had made his decision. Planes fly and budgies fly and even crocs fly, at last vertically, so yeah, why not make a brumby fly today, and that was what he did. A few steps back, a run-up disguising itself as a withdrawal, and then the horse turned into a spear, pitched by a master spear thrower; King George couldn´t have done it better. The Drover was an empathic rider, he granted the beast enough space to unfold its full power and become the missing link between earth and air. And then, after a breathless second of motionless hovering, the hooves hit the ground, followed by the – thankfully only loosely attached – upper bar of the fence, and the man was on his way to the loading dock.
The stockmen at the waterfront still tried to stop him. But the battle was lost; the Drover´s horse slid through the enemies´s lines like a fish, scattering the station hands as if they were water fleas. In no time he had reached the crush, one cut with the knife and the gate came down, blocking the way for the Carney herd, and then it was over.
Neil Fletcher found himself on his platform by the phone, the life line between him and the dream of his cattle kingdom. He could not even say how he got back there. His heart was pounding against his rib and it was hot, way too hot under the woolen sweater that was not made for running competitions in the midday heat. He had lost, today he had lost it, and he knew what it meant to fail in the eyes of The King. The sick feeling was a fist squeezing his guts and he struggled to not let it elicit the words from him that would possibly prevent him from throwing up and spilling his own self-disgust all over the place.
He made it
I can´t believe
Dear God he made it
The telephone rang and his features froze. The founders of the convict colony called Australia might have had implemented hard labour, whippings and executions, yet Leslie `King` Carney´s aloof disdain was a terror not even they had been familiar with.
Another slosh of sickness washed a new thought up on the beach, a deep sea creature not meant for daylight.
Why do you suffer this man´s scorn?
Day by day by day by day.
Why are you doing this to yourself?
No farm is worth that.
Yes, it was. It had to, and all he could do was cling on to that belief, bite down on it through the nights when Faraway Downs shrank and withered until it seemed so much smaller in comparison to the one thing he would never have.
The telephone was ringing and it was high time to answer the call, for Carney had never been a patient man, not even after he had won and only a bloody drongo would laugh in the face of the whip.
Go down and submit. Close your eyes and close yourself, and if your hold your breath long enough it will be over. The pain won´t last, pain is nothing. Just go down and turn on the dream, the one you never dare to think about consciously for if you did, it would mark you, like an upside down cross in your eyes. Flip the switch and, for a second of mercy, let the diffuse grey light behind the lids dance across your inner screen.
The Drover on his brumby, dusty and sweaty and laughing. He dismounts to shut the gate of the enclosure and gives him a wide, approving smile.
Crikey, never thought we would be done so soon. Good on yer, Neil!
As he passes, his hand brushes Fletcher´s shoulder. A back-slapping among men that turns into something different as the hand, following the motion, slips under his collar, the damp area between moist hair and firm flesh. The touch changes from fleeting sensation to tender stroke to solid grip and the shiver travels down his spine and into the ground like lightning along an earthwire.
Another one. Drover again, appearing in a door frame. His movements stutter a little and there are stripes flickering over his face, for it is a movie, a slightly blurred black-and-white movie, and the Drover says:
By the way, Neil, dinner´s just ready. I was wondering if you´d like to come in and stay for the night?
There was no time in Neil Fletcher´s life when he did not hate it to be a subordinate. Not a single moment he had not been under anybody´s thumb and if there was a person he loathed more than the man who treated him as an underling every day, it was the man who made him yearn for it.
The telephone rang. He picked up the receiver; the frosty voice on the other end seared the skin like an icy shower he could never get accustomed to.
"That´s what happens when you send a boy to do a man´s job."
He hung up very quitely. For a moment he stood, his eyes fixed on the wood grain of the phone post, trying no to blink until his view had cleared. A dusty wind rose, sandblasting the shame off the place of his defeat.
Close your eyes and hold your breath and wait until the merry-go-round stops. Open them again and they will be expressionless, for the rage and humiliation are safely packed and stored deep down in the basement under the house where no one will ever find them, except the spiders and the scorpions. Pride is not power, though still the best replacement you can get; so put your head in your neck and face a horizon that blurs and drowns in a salty burn. Let your gaze wander over the place and across the main street and the corrugated iron roofs, up to Stokes Hill with its colonial mansions shining in white splendour, to the cattle stations and the muddy billabongs, over the dusty bush land and and further to the arid plains of the Kuraman, where it dissolves in the emptiness: a cold blue stare under the blowtorch of a scorching sun.