The green and black wagon with the spotless white cover was making good progress on the gentle downhill track out of Charters Towers and it was perfect weather for travelling with a bright blue sky full of sunshine and a pleasantly cool breeze promising to maintain its balm throughout the day.
Emma and Wilhelm were tucked in behind the backboard looking out at what they were leaving behind and what was attracting their attention just now were the little groups of black birds chattering away as they pecked at the ground or in the tussocks of grass growing on the track. They’d come fluttering down out of the trees as soon as the wagon passed with cries of joy or annoyance, the children couldn’t tell which, and forming their groups they got on with whatever it was they were doing.
Georg and Gretchen sat at the front of the wagon just behind the horses. Georg held the slack reins in his hands as the horses, keen to forge ahead, carried them through the scatter of trees and shrubs of the grassy woodlands.
‘I wonder what those birds are called,’ Gretchen said. ‘It’s a pity we have to disturb them as we come blundering through their territory.’
‘I’m sure we don’t disturb them, Gretchen. I think they are happy to have us pass by and stir up the insects for them. They’ve been busy dealing with the insects that Johannes and his wagonette upset and they welcome our effort to beat up more food for them.’
‘Of course, I should have worked that out myself. Why else would they choose the wagon track as a place to feed? Now I can interpret those funny noises I can hear them making above the rumble of the wagon. It’s some sort of happy conversation as they get together again.’
‘It’s a pity we human beings weren’t as happy as we eat together.’
‘What do you mean, Georg? Meal times are happy times for us.’
‘What about Joel Skipton? He insisted that he and Bindi eat with us, but what did they do this morning? They sat apart from us at breakfast and neither of them said a word.’
‘He’s a very shy man and it will take him time to get to know us. Conversation doesn’t come easy for him.’
‘He didn’t have any trouble haranguing me when we first met. He had no trouble finding his words then.’
‘It may be, Georg, that he’s embarrassed by his outburst then. He’ll come good when we show that we have no hard feelings towards him.’
‘I don’t think that’s the problem. I get the feeling that there’s something else going on. This morning I thought I’d break the ice with Bindi and engage him in conversation, but the bullocky spotted us and abruptly called him away. There’s something he’s hiding from us and that makes me very wary about relying on the protection he’s supposed to be providing for us.’
‘Well I won’t be jumping to any conclusions. I’ll continue providing meals for them and I’ll accept the protection he’s been paid to give us until he actually shows he can’t be relied on. It’s all we can do in our present situation.’
‘It’s not all we can do,’ Georg said. ‘Johannes and I have taken steps to protect you and the children should the need arise.’
‘What steps, Georg?’
‘There’s no need to alarm you just now with all the details, but I’ll show you later the place in the wagon where you and the children will get the best protection from spears while Johannes and I draw up our wagons in a defensive position and deal with the attack. I spent a couple of years in Bismarck’s army remember and I do know something about warding off an attack and Johannes has been here for seventeen years and he doesn’t travel without weapons.’
‘Oh no, God forbid that we’ll be forced to shoot innocent people.’
‘They won’t be innocent people if they are attempting to kill us, Gretchen.’
‘You will use your shot gun then.’
‘Yes, I have that too. It’s no Dreyse rifle, but it may be required to do more than provide ducks for our dinner.’
Georg and Gretchen Schillingberg continue their pursuit of happiness across Australia as they travel from Townsville, on the coast, to Aramac in central Queensland with Georg’s brother, Johannes. Gretchen has been redeemed from the hopeless drudgery of service to a cruel mistress, and she and her family have begun a truly new life.
Before the journey, the group is persuaded to accept the assistance and protection of a bullocky named Joel Skipton and his Aboriginal assistant, Bindi. They were assured that there would be no Aboriginal attacks during the trek. But Joel’s reputation as an immoral, antisocial, and unreliable person catches up with him, leaving the family to face the dangerous trip on their own. Gretchen, who has suffered social rejection in Germany, refuses to write off the native people and recognizes that there is a mystery surrounding the landscape they are passing through. Now these newcomers to the land must reach their own conclusions and find a way to achieve peace and harmony in the place they now call home.
In this novel, the second in a series, an immigrant family from Germany crosses the Australian bush in search of a new home, facing dangers along the way.
About the Author
Neill Florence is a former high school principal and English teacher in Queensland. Now retired, he has written several novels and short story collections. Out of the Shadow is the second book of a planned trilogy that grew from a set of letters written from Germany to family in Australia in the second half of the nineteenth century.