When the boy left the house that morning, with his elder sister, he was not to know that this was when the adventure began.
He saddled the old mare for himself because she was quiet and easy to ride. His sister took the pony, young and only recently broken to the saddle. The boy was happy his sister was with him because she was quite clever, for a girl, and knew how to get home if they got lost.
It was the time of the school holidays and help around the house was not needed, so, with lunch in a paper bag they set off through the scrub towards that area that they knew as Killanoola. The scrub was low and from the vantage of their saddles they could see where they were going. The horses took the easy way and often followed well-worn kangaroo tracks. A few scattered stringy bark trees or eucalypts broke the monotony of the vegetation. The sandy soil and a few sandstone outcrops did not support lush forest here.
This was to be no exuberant boyhood frolic but a quiet and steady ride with the sun on their right shoulder. Their father had made it clear; they were to be quiet and they would see much more than if they ran and jumped. There were other times when running and jumping were warranted but today it was not.
They saw a snake, which from the horse was not as threatening as those they found around the yards back at the house. All snakes were poisonous and had to be avoided if at all possible. Some of the birds seemed different. Perhaps not really different, but around the house they were scarce because of the usual noise the children made and today they were quiet and the horses did not spook the birds like people did.
Now and then a pair of bronzewing pigeons were startled into the air, fairy wrens would flitter from bush to bush and tiny spotted pardalotes emerging from their nest at the end of a tunnel in a bank of earth would move so quickly that they were often just a flash in the sunlight.
A family of emus walked across in front of them and small grey kangaroos loped gently along their own private highway.
Then the horses took a path that seemed more defined. There were many kangaroo tracks in the sand, the branches of the bushes on either side met overhead in some places and beneath one white gumtree they stopped and got off to eat their sandwich.
His sister found the mound. It was just the spot to sit and rest. There was room for the two of them – it was smooth and flat and quite well defined. It was the boy who found the piece of a broken plate stuck at one end of the mound of dirt. On the plate was a black mark that looked like writing but nothing at all like they had seen before.
They took the plate and set off home. They had no idea where they were but that did not matter. The horses knew and they left the return journey to them.
“Look what we found!”
They showed the strange plate and they explained the mound of earth and the boys’ father told them that they had found “The Chinamen’s Track”. I’m not certain if they understood why the path through wild bush was named as it was.
“I s’pose a Chinaman dropped the plate and because it was broken he just left it there. Can I keep it? I found it!”
“No!” their father explained. “It was probably there to mark the grave of one of the Chinamen who had died.”
“So can we keep it?” the boy asked.
“No. Tomorrow we will go back and you can show me where you found it and we will put it back just where it was.”
On the next morning they set out again. This time they showed their father where they had gone, although he seemed to know without their help. He did not correct them but helped them decide which way to turn. The horses seemed to know where to go. Soon they found “The Chinamen’s Track” and showed their father the mound of dirt. They knew it was a grave when they saw it this time and the boy’s sister placed the plate back exactly where it had been and neither they nor their father said anything. They were quiet and then they turned and rode home.
As I said at the beginning, this was the start of the adventure even if the boy would not realise it until many years later.