Stoneybrook was about 150 miles into the hills to the east of the city. It was a homestead that had been in the Fletcher family for four generations and was well known throughout the area to be one of the best cattle and sheep farms in the territory.
Darryl’s father Stephen now owned it after it had been passed on to him by his father. 700 cattle and 500 sheep roamed the pastures and hills on the 700 acre property and up to 30 people were employed at one time.
Darryl was an only child. His mother had been through years of miscarriages before trying In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF). It had cost them a few thousand dollars and a couple of years but finally Claire had become pregnant. At five months she was told she had better stay in bed for the rest of her pregnancy to help stop any complications. Nine months later her baby boy was born healthy and happy.
Darryl loved the countryside – he had known nothing else all his life but from the quick trips that were made into the city each fortnight he didn’t think he’d ever want to live anywhere else.
When he was five he got his first horse. It was a Shetland Pony called “Toby”. He was black and white and used to sneeze all the time. It didn’t take long for Darryl to learn how to ride and he would follow his Dad around the farmhouse being careful not to get in the way of the big horses. He used to prance around with his pony like he was part of a circus and the farmhands thought it was great entertainment.
Because Darryl didn’t have any brother’s or sisters he often felt a little lonely and had to make up games with himself and Toby. He wasn’t able to go to school because it was so far away and so instead he had to school at home. His mother was a good teacher and Darryl was a good learner but he would get easily distracted by the window as he saw the riders rounding up the sheep.
When the farm helpers would come and stay Darryl would get all excited and run out to meet them and introduce himself.
At shearing time Darryl would sit in the woolshed watching the men shearing sheep after sheep. They thought he was a great little kid and loved it when he would put on silly little skits for them. He was certainly a performer and he loved the attention but sometimes he’d get a little too silly and then Dad would tell him to go inside and help his mother. All he really wanted was to help shear the sheep.
One afternoon when Darryl had finished his schoolwork he snuck out to the woolshed – it wasn’t being used today so Darryl knew he wouldn’t get caught. He had a pet lamb around the back of the house called “Lucy” and today he was going to prove to everyone that he was more than capable of shearing.
He tied a rope around Lucy and managed to lead her round to the shed past the kitchen window without his mum seeing.
One of the farm hands had shown him how to turn the shearers on and which way to hold the sheep. He knew what he was doing he’d seen it hundreds of times before…
Darryl came back from the hospital with 10 stitches, a very sore hand and a small dent in his pride. He got a half hour lecture from his Mum and Dad reminding him that he was only seven and that he should know better than to go playing with the shearing machines – not to mention terrorising his poor lamb.
None of this stopped Darryl hanging out in the woolshed. As he got older he became quite good friends with some of the young men. One in particular “Jocko” who was only 16 was a great laugh and he and Darryl who was 13 by now would always be joking around and playing tricks on each other while they were working.
Jocko was great at convincing Darryl to get up to mischief and Darryl had no idea he was always being taken advantage of. As far as Darryl was concerned they were great friends and he liked the excitement of the trouble they sometimes got themselves into.
Darryl would never forget the time that Jocko made a branding iron in the letters of Darryl’s name and managed to burn his arm. He was in agony for a week and had to hide it from his mother. Who would brand or tattoo their own name on their arm? Jocko thought it was hilarious.
As Darryl came up to his fourteenth birthday he realised something was missing. He’d never had a girlfriend. In fact he’d barely seen any girls his whole life! He knew there was a girl called Sarah down at the next farm 20 miles away but he had only seen her a couple of times and every time she’d snobbed him.
It was about this time that Darryl’s parents decided he should go to boarding school for his College years. Although eventually he would take over the farm he would still need an education and needed to learn some management skills.
Darryl didn’t know what to think. He’d been isolated so long that he was a little apprehensive about leaving the farm and entering the city, but within his first week he was clowning around as usual and was known as the funny guy in class. This suited him fine, he thought he was pretty funny himself.
Only a couple of weeks later some of the guys in his dorm were planning to sneak out that night and meet some of the girls from the school down the road.
Darryl was prepared. He’d been reading a book he’d been given by Jocko called “100 Guaranteed Chat Up Lines”. He was sure to get the girls to like him with some of these!
The girls thought he was hilarious with his one liners but none of them were interested in him. He came across arrogant – especially thinking that the girls would fall at his feet after one line. And he really thought they would! He’d never felt such rejection. Sure his mates might tease him a little but having a girl laugh at him was the most embarrassed Darryl had ever been.
During the holidays he got to go back to the farm. He got to catch up with Jocko who had managed to work his way up the ranks to head shearer. They laughed and joked and chatted into the night.
On the last day before catching the train back to College, Darryl was sorting wood when he noticed his father’s horse coming up the valley with it’s reins hanging over it’s head.
Darryl rushed outside and across the field to the horse – he knew something was wrong and his stomach started churning. He jumped on the horse and galloped back in the direction it had come from.
Darryl saw his father lying face down in the creek over the hill. Darryl was stunned. His father was the best rider he knew there’s no way he would have fallen from his horse.
Darryl jumped off the horse and ran to his father. He turned him over and knew at once that his father was gone. He was blue and barely warm and he had weird blisters all over his face.
Darryl managed to get him on to the back of the horse and head back towards the house.
Claire was distraught. Stephen had complained of feeling sick that morning and she had tried to keep him in bed but he insisted that there was too much to do on the farm and had headed out as usual.
An ambulance turned up and Stephen’s body was taken away for an autopsy to determine the cause of death.
Rumours went flying around the adjacent farms that Stephen had died from Mad Cow Disease and the panic spread. Some of the farm workers walked out on the job and other’s just stopped turning up.
It was over a week later before they heard anything. Their local doctor had been given the results and had come around personally to let them know that it was an unidentified virus that had killed him. Claire and Darryl were full of questions but unfortunately the doctor couldn’t help. They didn’t know what the virus was and as yet it didn’t even have a name. They’d only seen a couple of other cases and were still working hard in the labs trying to get some answers.
It was decided that Darryl would leave college and come back home to help out. Claire needed him, she looked like a ghost. She would hardly eat and would spend a lot of the day in bed. Darryl would make her dinner and cups of tea after his long day herding, riding and building fences.
Darryl ploughed on and helped his Dad’s right-hand man Phil to organise all the workers each morning. There was so much to do, Darryl wondered how his Dad had always been on top of everything.
But something wasn’t right. Every couple of days a worker was getting sick and wasn’t coming back. Darryl was seeing the same blisters he’d seen on his father on some of the other workers. Darryl was scared. This was getting out of control and it was spreading so fast.
Four weeks after his father had died the farm came to a halt. The workers had all gone and his mother was getting weaker and weaker. Darryl couldn’t run the farm on his own and his mother was his first priority. He tried to get a doctor to come out but all doctors were trying to contain the virus in the city.
Claire took Darryl aside on her last night. She told him that he’d been the most wonderful thing in her life and she never regretted a minute of it. She had seen him working hard and following in the footsteps of his father and that there was no mum prouder in the world. She loved him very much and she didn’t ever want him to feel he was alone because in one way or another she and his father would always be there.
She quietly slipped away as Darryl gently sobbed by her side.
Darryl lasted another couple of weeks at the farm. He slaughtered some cattle and sheep and cured the meat and hid it so that he could always come back if he ended up starving.
He left the farm one morning – not looking back. He took his father’s four wheel drive and headed for the city. One way or another he was going to make it