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U3A Writing: Sarah Jane

“Larry, the cook, has his own little house with a fenced off garden and a little bit of grass. He has a big shed at the back where he keeps some chooks and gets a lot of eggs, but he also has lots of gnomes - he calls them his little fairies. They all have different colours, sort of clothes, and they have little tables and small three-legged stools,’’ says Sarah Jane, a curious and engaging eight-year-old.

Dick Nolan, in this brilliant story, conveys life on a homestead station in the Australian outback.

My name is Sarah Jane and my Dad's name is Geoff, and our name is Gardner, but my Mam's name is Jenny Boyce. That was her name before she got married, and she would not change her name. She told me that lots of people were very cross that she didn't change her name including our Gran, that is Dad's mother.

I am eight years old and we have Miriam who is six and Jack, my brother, who is only three. We live at Fowlers Creek station, which is near the railway at William Creek where we go sometimes to pick up supplies. Last time it was just Dad and me that went because Jack was sick and our Mam was still doing the school on the radio.

Mam is the teacher and there are twenty-five children who come on air for lessons each day. I'll be going into third grade after the school holidays, and Mam says I'll be good enough to teach Miriam myself because I'm good at reading. She says if I keep up my reading I'll be a good scholar. I'm tall too so I might be a teacher.

At the station homestead there is a cook - a man named Larry. He is as old as Grandpa but Dad says he is a great cook. He kills his own sheep and does all the butchering when they kill cattle. He uses a lot of meat as there is a big lot of men working here and some of them work at the outstations. They take meat out with them when they go to stay, and they don't come in for weeks. When I see some of them they have grown beards and I don't know who they are.

Larry, the cook, has his own little house with a fenced off garden and a little bit of grass. He has a big shed at the back where he keeps some chooks and gets a lot of eggs, but he also has lots of gnomes - he calls them his little fairies. They all have different colours, sort of clothes, and they have little tables and small three-legged stools. Larry lets me go into the garden to see them, and every time I go they have moved to somewhere different.

Larry says they talk a lot to one another during the night. He told me that even the sheepdogs are afraid to go near them as they whisper among themselves. He says he left out some bread one night, and it was all gone in the morning.

When I was driving back to our house with Dad, I asked him about them and he said Larry was always talking about the fairies. But Dad said that, right enough, every time he saw them they had moved, particularly the three big ones. They all have tall red hats and you can see them from rainwater tanks where we always park the truck.

I asked Mam about the fairies, and she said that every night when Larry has finished the washing up he goes down to the shed and leaves some food scraps for them. She also told me that sometimes the fairies move off to somewhere far away and that other ones come to take their place and visit here.

I told one of the other children on the school radio, but Mam said I shouldn't be talking fairy talk over the radio. She said the fairies wouldn't like me to be talking about them on the radio.

Our priest Fr. Dunne comes to visit the station every three months, and last time he came he asked me at the station have I any questions. So I asked him about Larry's fairies and he told me he had seen them many times and at the big station next to Fowlers Creek - Commonwealth Hill - where the cook there is called Barbeque Billy, and he too keeps a place for fairies.

Fr. Dunne thinks that some of them move between stations on very dark nights and that's how I see different coloured ones at Larry's place. He also told me that I shouldn't worry about them as when I grow up I'll be having my own lot of fairies to mind. I'd love to have a place for fairies in our house, but we don't have a shed for shelter and Dad says they have to have shelter from the dust storms.

Next time I have to tell stories to Miriam when she's going to bed I'll tell her all about the fairies, but Mam said I was not to frighten Miriam. Funny thing about her, sometimes I hear Dad calling her his fairy and I wonder why. The only thing I can think of is my hair is dark and Miriam's hair is blonde maybe that's why.

Tomorrow Dad has to go to the outstations as they have some trouble with a windmill. Dad knows all about them and he loaded a lot of big tools and stuff into his truck tonight. He says he might have to stay out for the night. I saw him putting some beer in too. Whenever he goes out he always brings out meat and supplies to the men out there, and that saves them coming in just for food.

Whenever Dad goes out for a night or two, Mam always cooks something nice like cakes or biscuits. We have a little party just for us and she lets us stay up late. I hope she'll be doing that tomorrow and I'll be able to help her with the jobs. She says I'm good at doing the jobs. I suppose I'll have to look after Jack when he cries. He always cries when Dad is away. Mam says Dad has him spoilt.

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