Cattle, and cattle only, would be the work of the “Dry.” Dan and the Quiet Stockman, with a dozen or so of cattle “boys” to help them, had the year’s musterings and brandings to get through; the Dandy would be wherever he was most needed; yard-building, yard-repairing, carting stores or lending a hand with mustering when necessity arose, while the Maluka would be everywhere at once, in organisation if not in body.
Where runs are huge, and fenceless, and freely watered the year’s mustering and branding is no simple task Our cattle were scattered through a couple of thousand square miles of scrub and open timbered country, and therefore each section of the run had to be gone over again and again; each mob, when mustered, travelled to the nearest yard and branded.
Every available day of the Dry was needed for the work; but there is one thing in the Never-Never that refuses to take a secondary—place the mailman; and at the end of a week we all found, once again, that we had business at the homestead; for six weeks had slipped away since our last mail-day, and the Fizzer was due once more.
The Fizzer was due at sundown, and for the Fizzer to be due meant that the Fizzer would arrive, and by six o’clock we had all got cricks in our necks, with trying to go about as usual, and yet keep an expectant eye on the north track.
The Fizzer is unlike every type of man excepting a bush mail-man. Hard, sinewy, dauntless, and enduring, he travels day after day and month after month, practically alone—“on me Pat Malone,” he calls it—with or without a black boy, according to circumstances, and five trips out of his yearly eight throwing dice with death along his dry stages, and yet at all times as merry as a grig, and as chirrupy as a young grasshopper.
With a light-hearted, “So long, chaps,” he sets out from the Katherine on his thousand-mile ride, and with a cheery “What ho, chaps! Here we are again!” rides in again within five weeks with that journey behind him.
A thousand miles on horseback, “on me Pat Malone,” into the Australian interior and out again, travelling twice over three long dry stages and several shorter ones, and keeping strictly within the Government time-limit, would be a life-experience to the men who set that limit if it wasn’t a death-experience. “Like to see one of ’em doing it ’emselves,” says the Fizzer. Yet never a day late, and rarely an hour, he does it eight times a year, with a “So long, chaps,” and a “Here we are again.”
The Fizzer was due at sundown, and at sundown a puff of dust rose on the track, and as a cry of “Mail oh !” went up all round the homestead, the Fizzer rode out of the dust.
“Hullo! What ho! boys,” he shouted in welcome, and the next moment we were in the midst of his clattering team of pack-horses.
For five minutes everything was in confusion; horse bells and hobbles jingling and clanging, harness rattling, as horses shook themselves free, and pack-bags, swags, and saddles came to the ground with loud, creaking flops. Every one was lending a hand, and the Fizzer, moving in and out among the horses, shouted a medley of news and instructions and welcome.