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  ― 1 ―

Dead Timber

A Play in One Act.

The scene is outside a slab hut in the middle of a halfcleared selection in the GippsIand bush.

A form outside hut, with Pots, Pans, etc. Against hut, a shed, with separator. A muddy track, loading to cow-yard. Logs, stumps, etc.

In distance a steep hillside, covered with dead trees. An early winter's morning.

(Enter FARMER, with lighted lantern. He moves round calling:)

FARMER.

Cow time! Cow time! Joe! Joe! Abe! stir your lazy bones there. Roll out, Joe, and get the cows in. Things are coming to a pretty pass when the old man has to be up first to call you. Cow time, do you hear ? Cow time !


JOE.

(Within.) No hurry, dad. 'Tain't half-past five yet.


FARMER.

It'll be broad daylight soon.


JOE.

No, it ain't.


FARMER.

Get out o' that now, and none o' your back talk to me.


JOE.

Ain't I up ?


FARMER.

I'll show you all who's boss on this 'ere selection.


(Enter JOE, a red-headed boy of eleven.)




  ― 2 ―
FARMER.

Get the milkers in! Don't stand there rubbing your eyes.


JOE.

It's pitch dark.


FARMER.

What are you waiting for?


JOE.

I can't see. How am I to —


FARMER.

Did you hear me talking to you? Didn't I tell you to bring in them milkers ?


JOE.

How's it for the lantern?


FARMER.

You don't want no lantern. Be off with you.


JOE.

(Whimpering.)Yes I do. A man can't see his way down to the gully this sort of a morning.


FARMER.

What are you grumbling at there ? You know where the cows are.


JOE.

I'll be breaking my leg in a rabbit burrow, that's what I'll be doing.


FARMER.

Y'aint done it yet, and y'aint a-going to do it this morning, are you?


(Enter ABE, twenty-four years old, but half-witted; slowly, and sheepishly.)

ABE.

We'll 'ave more rain to-day.


FARMER.(To JOE.)

Off with you, now. We won't get the milk separated till dinner time.


JOE.

You can't expect a man to be like a traction engine.


FARMER.

Be off, or I'll liven you up.


(JOE, whistles for the dogs and goes out, calling “'ere Ben, 'ere Ben ! good dog !”)

FARMER.

You can run them steers into the market to-day.


ABE.

The road's bogged.


FARMER.

Go and chuck 'em a handful o' hay now. They want freshening up.


ABE.

I ain't 'ad my morning lunch.


FARMER.

Ain't Mary up yet?


ABE.

No.


FARMER.

What's she doing.


ABE.

Sleeping.


FARMER.

A nice family I've reared. What are you sulking at?


ABE.

Let them steers wait till I've had a bite o' tucker.




  ― 3 ―

FARMER.

You'll drive me mad, you mumbling idiot.


ABE.

I ain't going to the market to-day.


FARMER.

You'll end your days bumping bluey, like an old swaggie, that's what you'll be doing. Nice sort o' thing for my son to come to!


ABE.

The road's bogged.


FARMER.

Be off now! Joe'll have the cows in before you're back.


(ABE goes out Slowly)

(Enter WIFE, careworn, but resigned.)

WIFE.

Has Joe gone for the cows yet ?


FARMER.

Yes. And a nice job I've had to rouse him out.


WIFE.

And did you remember to tell Abe to bring up the sick cow? She was lying down under the sheoaks by the creek when I saw her last night.


FARMER.

I forgot. I can't think o' nothing this morning.


WIFE.

And, dad, you'd better send Abe to look at the lambs, for I heard the dingoes howling quite close to the house.


FARMER.

I'm losing heart, mum. Ain't Mary up yet?


WIFE.

Oh, long ago.


FARMER.

Mary was out again last night.


WIFE.

Never mind, dad.


FARMER.

I don't know what I'm doing this morning. What could have sent her out on a night like that, except sin ?


WIFE.

She was only seeing after the sick cow.


FARMER.

The rain poured. There was thunder and lightning. The ranges were all lit up. I looked out, and there I seen a big tree struck by the lightning. It was a judgment of God. Mary will be struck dead.


WIFE.

I tell you she only went down the paddock to cover up the sick cow.


FARMER.

My God! if a girl o' mine brought shame and ruin on the family!


WIFE.

Dad!


FARMER.

I done my best, mum.


WIFE.

You're not well this morning.




  ― 4 ―

FARMER.

It's poor land, and hard to make a living.


WIFE.

When we get the new road things will brighten up. What's Abe doing?


FARMER.

I don't know. My head's spinning round . . . Things are going on behind my back. No good will come of it. I heard something about that young Andy Wilson, the horsebreaker, who's living in a tent by the Magpie River.


WIFE.

What did you hear?


FARMER.

Mary's been seen out with him.


WIFE.

It's a lonely place for a woman. Girls must have a peep o' pleasure.


FARMER.

Pleasure is sin.


WIFE.

I'll warn her, dad. I'll take care Mary comes to no harm.


FARMER.

They must be sweet-hearting down in the gully.


WIFE.

No, no. You don't know what you're saying.


FARMER.

He ain't a respectable hard working man that wants to marry and settle down. He knocks around the country like a sundowner. . . . He'll ruin mygirl, he'll ruin her.


(A tinkle of cow bells.)

WIFE.

Do you hear the bells in the scrub ?


FARMER.

Why did we ever rear a family?


WIFE.

Don't say that, dad. I bore them for you to be a comfort to you in your old age.


FARMER.

Our family ain't no comfort. Look at Joe! He ain't got no respect for me. He'll come to a bad end. Abe's a shingle short. And we've lost Tom and little Sarah. And Mary, my favourite daughter —


WIFE.

You're upset, dad. You mustn't believe the gossip you hear at the market.


FARMER.

I'll wait for them to-night. I'll follow Mary down the back paddock. I'll take my gun. If Andy Wilson comes up him, I'll shoot him as God is my judge, and I'll shoot myself after.


(Enter MARY at door. She is a young woman of twenty.)

MARY.(At door.)

Lunch's ready.





  ― 5 ―
WIFE.

Come in, dad, and have a cup of tea.


FARMER.

You're up at last, are you ? What sort of time is this to be getting up?


MARY.

The cows aren't in yet.


FARMER.

You like to lie lazy a-bed, and let us do the work.


MARY.

I'm tired.


FARMER.

What right have you to be tired ? You're a young woman now, and should by a real help to us all.


MARY.

I'm tired of the cows. I'm tired of the bush.


FARMER.

You should have been a lady, that's what you should have been. Poor hard working people like us ain't good enough for the likes of you.


WIFE.

Come in, dad.


FARMER.

The education we gave you, that's what spoilt you. You don't know when you're well off.


MARY.

Yes, I do. I'm not well off living in the bush. Oh, I hate the bush.


(Exit MARY into the house.)

WIFE.

Come on, dad.


FARMER.

Did you hear what Mary said? She defied me. My own family's turned against me.


(Enter ABE.)

ABE.

The crick's flooded.


FARMER.

The seed'll be washed away. Everything's going agen me.


WIFE.

Why didn't you bring up the sick cow?


ABE.

It's dead. It was all swelled up.


(Sound of bells.)

WIFE.

Hurry up Abe. The cows are in.


FARMER.

What are you staring at ?


ABE.

I ain't going to take them steers into the market to-day.


(Exit ABE into the house.)

FARMER.

I'm beat. They're all agen me, every one of them.


(Exit FARMER into the shed.)

(Bells tinkling, and Joe calling, “Gee on Brindle, Here, boy, sool 'em, fetch 'em on. Gee on,


  ― 6 ―
Baldy Face ! Hey there Rosie ! What are you doing ? Gee on ! Gee on!”)

(Enter FARMER, With Cans.)

FARMER.

What's Joe been up to ?


WIFE.

It's hard to find the cows in the scrub. (Enter JOE.)


FARMER.

Have you been having another sleep ?


JOE.

The cows have been in the shed for hours. It ain't my fault if they ain't finished before dinner time.


WIFE.

Go and get a snack, Joe.


FARMER.

Be as quick as you like, and get a move on down to the shed.


JOE.

You can't blame me if they ain't done.


(Exit JOE into the house.)

FARMER.

I've worked hard, and tried to bring the family up honest, but I'm getting old now, and worn out, and they don't take no notice of me.


WIFE.

It'll all come right, dad. We're getting the place cleared now,


FARMER.

It's only half cleared. There's too much rubbish and thick undergrowth. A bare living, that's the best we call hope for.


(Exit FARMER With Cans.)

(Enter MARY.)

MARY.

Will I chop up some of the meat?


WIFE.

Yes.


(MARY takes meat front bran bag hanging above form.)

WIFE.

I'll peel the potatoes.


(They sit down on form outside hut.)

MARY.

Isn't it cold and gloomy, mother!


(Enter ABE.)

ABE.

The road's bogged.


(Gets bucket.)

WIFE.

Dad's waiting for you.


ABE.

We're going to have more rain.


(Exit ABE with bucket.)

MARY.

It's always raining here. The mud's a foot deep when you tramp through it. I hate the dripping trees,


  ― 7 ―
and the black ranges. Oh, I hate the winter. It's all mud and slush and gloom and misery.


WIFE.

We must take what we get and be satisfied.


MARY.

But it's so lonely and melancholy here with the bush all round, and the dreary scrub and the dead timber. We're too far from the township.


WIFE.

I've got used to the loneliness, Mary. Dad says it's a free life in the bush.


MARY.

What freedom do I ever get! Dad expects me to work day and night, and never go anywhere, or talk to anybody. I can't go oil for ever like this. I'm not free. I can't breathe.


WIFE.

Dad is angry with you this morning.


MARY.

He's always angry with me now. Haven't I done my share of the work?


WIFE.

You've been a good girl. Dad's kind hearted if he's rough spoken. He's had a lot of trouble clearing the place. He's getting old.


MARY.

He's too hard on us all.


WIFE.

He knows you were out last night in the rain and thunder. He's worrying about it. Dad's a God-fearing man, and there's been some talk of young Andy Wilson. No, I'm not blaming you, Mary.


MARY.

What if there is? I don't want to leave you, mother. But I want a change, away from the cows and the scrub and the muck of the yards.


WIFE.

You mustn't get such ideas. When do I ever get a change ? I haven't had a spell for eleven years. What with milking and churning and washing and scrubbing, keeping the place ill order-yes, and cutting scrub and burning off when it's wanted, and patching and darning for you all—I'm butcher and baker and tailor —


MARY.

Yes, mother, I know. I'm so, sorry for you. And I'm sorry for dad. I'm sorry for everybody living in the bush.


WIFE.

But what's the use of fretting?


(Enter JOE from house.)

WIFE.

Hurry up, Joe.


JOE.

I'm coming. Give a man a chance to have a bite.





  ― 8 ―
WIFE.

Get your bucket, now.


(JOE gets bucket.)

JOE.

The old man's as cross as a skewbald this morning I'm getting full up. If he growls at me, I'll clear out.


WIFE.

Be quick, Joe.


JOE.

I'm going, ain't I ? They put all the graft on to me.


(Exit Joe with bucket.)

MARY.

Why were we brought up here to live in the lonely bush? The hills close us in. You're getting worn out, mother, I do want to help you, and dad's breaking down with hard work and worry. The world isn't all misery like this, is it, mother ?


WIFE.

Don't talk like that, Mary, it's wicked.


MARY.

We're all like the dead trees on the hill.


WIFE.

What's the matter, Mary ? Tell mother. I won't be angry.


MARY.

I can't.


WIFE.

You were out last night with Andy Wilson ?


MARY.

Yes.


WIFE.

I'm not angry, Mary. But I must warn you. Young girls are easily led away.


MARY.

He told me all the places he has seen. He's been up in New South Wales, and Queensland, on the big stations, breaking horses for the rich squatters.


WIFE.

Be careful, Mary.


MARY.

And he often goes to the city. Isn't the city better than the bush ?


WIFE.

You mustn't believe what men say. The city's a wicked place where girls are deceived. It's better in the bush. Here's Abe with the can.


MARY.

It's cold. I wish the sun would come up.


(Enter ABE, with can.)

(The women go to the separator. ABE puts the can down. WIFE pours milk into bucket, and bucket into separator. MARY works the machine.)

WIFE.

I hope we can get the cream away. What's that, Abe?


ABE.

The old man's grunting like a pig. (Exit ABE.)





  ― 9 ―
WIFE.

You're white, Mary.


MARY.

It's nothing.


WIFE.

I'll do that, Mary.


(Offering to take her Place.)

MARY.

I'm all right mother.


WIFE.

I don't want to be hard, Mary. I know how lonely it is here, with nobody, to see.


MARY.

One day passes like another.


WIFE.

We'll take a run over to Doran's on Sunday.


MARY.

If you like, mother.


WIFE.

And promise you won't see Andy Wilson any more.


MARY.

Oh, mother, I can't. I must see him. I could'nt live if I didn't.


WIFE.

I don't trust that man. You mustn't believe the things men say.


MARY.

It's too late, inother.


WIFE.

I want to protect you. I'm just warning you, Mary.


MARY.

It's too late, mother.


WIFE.

What is that, Mary ? You don't mean it. (Women stare at each other.)


MARY.

Oh, don't send me away.


(Enter FARMER.)

FARMER.

Loafing agen?


WIFE.

Don't be angry, dad.


FARMER.

Haven't I a right to be angry when my own children turn agen me ? Everything's going wrong on me. Baldy Face kicked and broke the leg rope.


WIFE.

That's nothing. I'll find you another bit of rope.


(Exit WIFE into the house. MARY is about to follow, when he stops her.)

FARMER.

I want a word with you young woman.


MARY.

What do you want to know?


FARMER.

Weren't you out last night ?


MARY.

Never mind.


FARMER.

You've been sneaking down to the Myrtle Gully.


MARY.

What if I have.





  ― 10 ―

(The dawn comes up, revealing the hut, the muddy track, and the dead trees on the hill.)

FARMER.

Ain't you ashamed to look me in the face ?


MARY.

No. I'm not ashamed.


FARMER.

You're sweet-hearting with young Andy Wilson. I heard tell of it. Deny it if you can.


MARY.

No, I won't. I saw Andy last night, if you want to know.


FARMER.

He's a fine young fellow, ain't he, breaking horses, and knocking about the country, and trying to ruin respectable girls, and spending his money in drink.


MARY.

Don't you dare to talk like that about Andy Wilson. I won't let you. I'll see him if I like.


FARMER.

Don't dare me! I'll watch for you. I'll shoot him if he brings disgrace on a child of mine. What are you smiling at?


MARY.

He's my man.


FARMER.

What do you say?


MARY.

He's my man.


FARMER.

You're telling me a lie.


MARY.

It's Andy. He loves me. I'm not afraid.


FARMER.

You'll be struck dead in the wrath of the Lord. . . Don't laugh at me, or I'll —


MARY.

(Hysterical.) Don't touch me. I'll kill you if you do. I'll have to go away. Would you keep my child?


FARMER.

What do you say?


MARY.

You wouldn't keep my child.


FARMER.

A child! Lord have mercy on us!


MARY.

It's his child.


FARMER.

It's a lie, you're lying to me, Mary. Say you're telling me a lie. I'll forgive you.


MARY.

It's the truth.


FARMER.

God help us! What are you doing here ? Out o' this. Get quit o' my sight. Take yourself off, and your child o' sin.


MARY.

I'm going. He'll be in his tent now. He'll take me away.


(Enter WIFE.)

FARMER.

My own daughter. Why did I rear her ?





  ― 11 ―
WIFE.

It's all a mistake, dad.


MARY.

I'll have to go, mother. I can't stay here.


WIFE.

Don't leave us, Mary.


MARY.

Dad sent me away. Good-bye, mother.


WIFE.

Dad didn't mean it.


MARY.

I wanted to tell you, mother. I couldn't help it. I can't stay here. I'll have to go. I'm not afraid to be out in the world. I'm more scared here, with the dead trees all around. He'll take me away, somewhere. I'd have to go now.


(Exit MARY.)

(FARMER sits down dazed on log.)

WIFE.

Come back, Mary.


(She goes to gate, Calling to MARY then comes back to FARMER.)

WIFE.

What have you done ?


FARMER.

I dunno. My head's cracked.


WIFE.

Mary'll come back.


FARMER.

I'm beat, mum. The bush has beat me.


WIFE.

Mary'll come back.


(Goes to gate and calls “Mary, come back.”)

FARMER.

We'll have to cut down ferns to-day. We can't buy a bag o' chaff in the district.


(His voice and look bring WIFE to him.)

WIFE.

(Trying to rouse him.) Don't look like that. You remember the big bush-fire five years ago, when everything was burnt out—fencing and grass-seed, all but the house? We had to put blankets on the roof to save it.


FARMER.

I remember. My left shoulder's been no good to me since the log fell on it.


WIFE.

We started again, dad.


FARMER.

I cleared that there hill three times.


WIFE.

Don't give in now. Everything will come right.


FARMER.

Ain't they finished milking?


WIFE.

They'll be finished soon.


FARMER.

Where's Mary ?


WIFE.

I'll bring her back. She won't leave us lonely.


FARMER.

She's gone, my favourite daughter, to burn in hellfire, and her child o' sin., I done my best. What


  ― 12 ―
am I working for ? The bush has broken me up, and my own family's turned agen me. We won't get much for them steers. I'll track him out and shoot him. I can't bear disgrace. They're all agen me. I'll get my gun. Yes, I'll shoot him.


Exit FARMER into house.

WIFE.

What are you doing, dad?


(She moves after him, then turns and goes up to gate, calling, “Mary, where are you Mary?”

(A pause.)

(A shot heard within house.)

(WIFE, starts, screams and runs into the house.)

(Enter JOE. WIFE comes to door.)

WIFE.

My God!—Quick, call Mary!


JOE.

Who fired the gun ?


WIFE.

Dad.


JOE.

What's up with the old man?


WIFE.

Dad's shot himself.


JOE.

Is he dead ?


WIFE.

Call Mary! Call Abe! 0! What can we do ? God help us all.


(Enter ABE with bucket.)

ABE.

Where's dad gone ?


JOE.

Shut up, you balmy idiot, don't you know the ol man's shot hisself?


(JOE enters house.)

WIFE.

We're left alone. Mary's gone away. And poor dad's shot himself—0, Abe! shot himself through the head. . .


ABE.

(Staring.) I ain't going to take them steers into the market to-day.


(WIFE rushes back to house. ABE moves slowly towards shed.)

CURTAIN.
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