ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Fourth-generation Australian Kathleen Joyce Will (nee Waldron) was born in
education was gained in small country schools in NSW and at a mature age, she
Kathleen is a
mother of three, to Wendy Gibney, Helen Mays and Alexander Will, and grandmother
to five grandsons.
Her first novel, In Gilded Tombs, was published in 2006.
rested her arm on the carriage window frame; her pleasant countenance was
reflected in the glass as she watched the vast landscape and blue sky slip by to
the rhythm of wheels on rails. The Spirit
of the Outback swayed its way across the plains towards the
Greta noted that rain had lifted the drought, leaving a carpet of
grey-green covered by colourful wild flowers. The weather boded well for the
‘dig’, she reflected; it would not be so dusty. This area known as the Channel
Country covered a section of the
Longreach was Greta’s first stop and then by coach, she and the team of
palaeontologists would travel on to Winton, famous for its large fossil sites
and museums. On the seat, by her side, a magazine lay. With an indulgent smile
she stroked the photo on the cover of a distinguished grey-haired man in his
late forties. The caption read: Famous
palaeontologist, Professor Enrick S Kallonus, discoverer of deposits of fossils,
the largest in
Travelling down the road of memory she recalled her first dinosaur, a plastic Tyrannosaurus Rex, a present for her fourth birthday. Her little friend, Fay, from down the street, who owned dozens of dollies with pretty dresses, declared the animal ugly. Greta was hurt by her friend’s remark; she found the creatures fascinating. She chuckled remembering her friend’s insistence that they play dollies and the dinosaur had to be dressed in a pink dress decorated with ribbons and lace.
Over the years her passion for these extinct creatures grew. Her brain soaked up anything connected to dinosaurs and ancient bones. Another world opened for her when Professor Kallonus visited her school and lectured on pre-historic creatures. From that time on she yearned to be a palaeontologist, and after finishing senior school, at a very tender age, with honours, entered university. She attended all lectures, seminars or talks conducted by the professor, and bombarded the man with questions.
Professor Enrick S Kallonus in turn noticed the budding young scientist, who to him was a plain girl with wispy mouse-coloured hair that kept falling into her eyes. Skinny and tall for a girl, she was developing a stoop, and rounded shoulders from bending over specimen tables and computers for too long. Her passion for the subject, hard work and naivety appealed to him. He considered her malleable.
Then a month
ago, to her delight and amazement, in the mail had come an invitation from the
professor asking if Greta would consider joining his team at the next dig in the
new area outside
Startled, she jumped as the public address system crackled into life hurtling her memory back to the present. A voice announced, ‘Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen, we are five minutes out of Longreach. Please collect all personal items and check if anything has been left. Thank you for travelling Queensland Rail.’
Gathering her scattered belongings, she shoved them into a large calico bag. As the train came to a halt, apprehension grew. Would the team welcome her as a colleague, or as a raw kid just out of university, without experience? This was her first time away from home for any length of time. She grabbed her suitcase, and hurrying down the corridor followed fellow passengers out of the train. On the station platform a wall of heat, glare and the smell of hot diesel hit her. It was a shock after being in air-conditioning for so long. However, being autumn, she knew, in the small hours of the morning the temperature would drop bringing frost to low areas of the country-side.
At the station,
she was to meet the team, who had flown from
Greta, in trepidation, studied the approaching man. Under his wide-brimmed hat she thought she detected a military-style haircut. His glance swept over her in an instant and, she surmised, recorded and tabbed her every detail. His clothes, although working clothes, were neat and fitted his muscular figure to perfection; his working boots were to her amazement well polished. She deduced he must be the boss, and hoped he would be patient and kind to her.
‘Miss Greta Jane Hoffman, I presume?’
Endeavouring to control her nerves, and cover her lack of confidence, Greta quipped, ‘Yes, ’tis I – Doctor Livingstone?’
She knew by his surprised expression that she had failed at sophisticated levity. ‘Err … not quite … Doctor Macintyre. Call me Frank. Welcome to our group. We’re an informal bunch and don’t stand on ceremony. Take us as you find us; however, everything has to be in order and work done well.’
Her anxiety was dissolved by his pleasant manner. She laughed and shook his hand. She gazed around. Her heart pounded.
‘You’re meeting somebody?’ he frowned, wanting an immediate answer.
‘I was expecting to see Professor Kallonus.’
He snorted. ‘The Prof doesn’t like getting his hands dirty. He never roughs it if he can help it. We do the work and he gets the glory.’
Greta was appalled. Dr Macintyre’s words bordered on heresy, and just as she was getting to like him too.
Professional jealousy entered all fields, and it seemed to her Frank’s remarks stemmed from envy. She had to admit she did have a crush on the professor, and would defend him no matter what.
‘Well, let’s away. Alan a local tour operator will drive us to the site. It’s set up under canvas until the woolshed is available. It gets cold at night. I hope you brought plenty of warm gear, Greta.’
‘Yes I have. Is this the whole team?’ she asked.
‘Almost. We rely on locals for information about the terrain and weather conditions. It makes our work easier. Hazel, our cook and her husband Don, the plant operator, are locals. There are five of us in the main team: myself in charge; second in command, Gordon Chapman; photographer, Roland Firman and his assistant Manuel Lopez, and of course, you. We’ve also got a number of students from various universities around the country and also overseas, getting work experience. They tend to come and go from time to time.’
They bundled themselves and their luggage into the coach and drove out into autumn’s bright ochre world. As evening drew near and the coach covered the kilometres, Greta found herself drawn to the intensity of colour in the surrounding countryside. There were reds and deep purple, burnt orange infused with yellow, if put on canvas people would not believe it was nature in her true glory.
The coach turned off the bitumen onto a graded gravel road and then collecting a dust cloud in its wake rattled over a cattle grid. A dilapidated sign attached to the boundary fence announced in faded letters: OWENS REACH. At a fork in the track, another decrepit sign had arrows pointing to the right that read ‘The Homestead’ and to the left ‘The Woolshed’. The coach turned left.
Over a scrubby, rocky hillock, they sighted the camp. Gordon Chapman seated beside Greta pointed out its features. ‘There it is – our home away from home. To the right are the sleeping tents; the large tent is for meals and recreation. At the back of the complex is a generator for lighting, refrigeration and communications. Under the platform of the water tank are two canvas-enclosed showers. We will only be here for a couple of weeks until the shearing shed becomes available. So welcome.’ He smiled at his bewildered companion.
After collecting their gear from the coach, the team paused to wave goodbye to Alan who before jumping into the cabin called out, ‘Remember, zip up your tents … keep out snakes and bities.’
This warning did not diminish Greta’s excitement of being on a dig. She turned to the sunset, watched the sky’s dramatic change of colour, and heaved a contented sigh; the place was magic. She could visualise herds of Tyrannosaurus Rex rampaging over a landscape of so long ago.
The next morning, the screeching and rumbling of machinery woke her. Dragging herself from the sleeping bag, she unzipped the tent entrance. Not unlike some prehistoric animal, a mechanical digger was making a cut in an embankment not far away. Her colleagues were hard at work, shaking soil through sieves, and brushing aside grit that may uncover an exciting find.
She panicked and dressed, muttering, ‘No shower this morning.’ Grabbing soap, towel and cosmetic bag, she hurried towards the wash bench. A woman waved, and yelled from the mess tent, ‘Come and have brekkie when you’ve washed up.’
After ablutions, Greta hurried over to the woman who introduced herself. ‘I’m Hazel the cook. My old man operates and owns the digger. The boss decided to let you sleep in. Breakfast won’t be a tick.’ The tall solid figure of the cook took only a few minutes to prepare Greta’s breakfast. She noted the woman’s face had been etched in a cobweb of lines by the merciless sun. Hazel shoved a plate of bacon, eggs, a sausage and fried tomatoes in front of her saying: ‘Here you are. Get that down, you’ll need it. Frank’s a bit of a slave driver.’
‘This is a great area, Hazel,’ mumbled Greta as she forked food into her mouth. She was hungry. ‘I’m surprised at the potential with all that underground water that the area hasn’t been exploited.’
Hazel shrugged. ‘Yeah, well, large irrigation combines have tried for years to move in on this area, but the cattlemen, farmers and locals won’t have it.’
After finishing breakfast, Greta peered around.
‘If you’re looking for a toilet that’s the women’s area over there, and a shovel and toilet paper are near the entrance. It’ll be less primitive when we move to the woolshed, where there’s a dunny complete with spiders and snakes. I think I prefer the bush,’ the woman laughed.
Greta, used to sparkling clean toilet bowls and glistening bathrooms, was a bit shocked but soon recovered her equilibrium. ‘Thanks, Hazel,’ she replied, thankful there was another woman on the dig. Clutching a shovel and a roll of toilet paper, Greta picked her way through the short scrubby undergrowth to a secluded area. About to pull down her knickers, she sensed she was not alone and searched about to discover, overhead, a large goanna lying along a branch watching her, its tongue flickering and glistening in the morning light. She did not linger long, and eyeing the reptile as she passed by yelled, ‘Pervert.’
Initiated into camp life, she reported for work, her stomach in turmoil with nerves.
‘Good morning, Greta. Grab a sieve – you know what to do, don’t you?’ asked Frank and held his breath in case she said no. He did not want to use precious time in tutoring a newcomer.
She nodded, blushing at his condescension.
‘Here’s a dish to put anything of interest in, no matter how insignificant or small. The Prof wants us to concentrate on this section only. Don’t go outside the taped areas, he’s adamant about that.’
They worked away all day following the digger, but nothing of consequence was found, only a small part of a jawbone that had to be identified. The next day was again unrewarding, but the third day was different. The digger stopped, and the operator yelled. Everybody raced to where the man was pointing, and there just visible in the side of the cut was a very large black bone. The digger eased back and the team with scrapers and brushes uncovered their first major find – the jaw of a sauropod. The team was ecstatic.
Greta’s task was sifting through the scrapings, which went on for the next couple of days, while more experienced members of the team explored the site, finding more Sauropod bones.
On the sixth day, mutiny was on Greta’s mind as perspiration trickled down her back. She wiped her brow with the back of her hand, and taking off her hat fanned her face to cool down. She was fed up with this mundane job. Boredom made her brave. ‘Blow this, I’m taking a break.’
Scrambling along a scoured gully for some distance she could see a part of the bank had fallen in. Embedded in the side of the gully were bones. After climbing to the top of the heaped-up soil for closer appraisal, she decided they were cow or some other animal remains.
I’d better get back before Frank misses me, she thought, and turned, but something troubled her. If they were animal bones, why had they been buried so deep? Why were they buried at all?
Returning to the bank she picked up a stick, and with care, scraped away the soil, revealing discoloured bones. But they were not black like fossils. Digging the stick further into the soil, something fell – it landed at her feet. She froze, and sucked in her breath. A skull leered at her – the bones were human.
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