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Late autumn, mid-May, and the bite was gone from the sun by mid-afternoon, though the black strip of road still rippled with heat. The paddocks beside the road were bare red dirt; disinterested cattle drifted aimlessly in the search for shade, kicking up trails of dust.
Ross knew the road to his grandfather's farm at Bringo Springs; it was burned into his memory by endless visits during school holidays, and then later when he was an adult, to give Granddad a hand with seeding or cropping or calving.
That was why he was making the five hundred kilometer trek from the city yet again, to help out. Granddad was in the nearest hospital, nursing a broken hip and an attitude problem, fretting over his cattle, his beloved horse, his dog and a cantankerous bore pump. Ross' mum had rung Ross, and here he was, on the road, looking forward to not having to deal with his life for a while.
There were two slabs of beer in the back of his car, along with his laptop, a mountain of journal articles and a couple of changes of clothes. His family hadn't grasped the subtle difference between graduate student and unemployed, they only knew it meant that he had the least commitments or money of any of them and was available to go and help out.
The road curved over the top of the final hill, then dropped down to the turn off for the farm. He knew the view behind was breath-taking, looking over the coastal plain to where Geraldton was a blur on the horizon, but Ross was far more interested in the view to the left and ahead, where he could glimpse the treed ridge that sheltered the homestead.
He parked his car at the front gate to the farm, collected the mail from the tin can nailed tothe fencepost, and opened the main gate. It wasn't easy, with a clip on the gate, and a length of chain, then a star picket to be lifted out of the way. The frame dragged in the dirt, wearing a furrow, but when Ross lifted it higher, the hinge at the other end flexed alarmingly. Looked like he'd be making some repairs while he was here.
The cattle in the front paddock spotted him, and it became a race to get back to his car, drive it through the gap, and get the gate shut before any of them got out onto the road. There'd be diced beef if one of the passing iron ore trucks hit a cow.
He hadn't been on the farm since Christmas, and hadn't spent more than a couple of days there for a year, so he didn't actually know the cows individually. A dopey-looking gray head-butted him solidly as he opened his car door, complaining in low moans, and he patted her head.
"I know," he said. "You want your dinner. Give me half an hour, and I'll come and feed you."