The character of Jack was inspired, in part, by my uncles, Jack and Rody. They were wheat-sheep farmers from the Riverina district. Both rode horses. Both were kind, solid men with a strength borne of long years battling drought, floods and fluctuating prices. Both had big families, too, like ours, and a special way with children.
Although I grew up on Sydney’s northern beaches, like a lot of city kids I’d visit my country cousins during school holidays. I loved staying on the farm, especially at Jack and Rita’s. That’s where I discovered the family “library” and snuck away to read ancient books like Mary Grant Bruce’s Billabong series. But there was plenty of outdoor activity, too. Rita taught us to ride and we’d help round up mobs of sheep. As we got older, Jack let us drive his ute while he stood on the trailer at the back to distribute feed, or stopped to treat a fly-blown sheep. Back at the farm, we watched, fascinated, as he strung up a wether, cut its throat and slit its belly, letting the farm dogs snap up the bloody entrails. He enjoyed our horrified reaction. “You like eating lamb’s fry, don’t you?” he asked. “Where do you think it comes from? City slickers!”
I can’t remember ever hearing a cross word from Jack. Even that time when I accelerated the ute instead of braking and he fell off the back of the trailer.
Years later I learned that he’d distinguished himself as a soldier before he settled down and had a family. He rarely spoke of it, only opening up when one of my nephews went off to Afghanistan. Jack was a modest man. I like to think my hero Jack Fairley shares some of his good qualities.
This is the fifth in a series of guest posts I wrote when Snowy River Man was first published. It first appeared on The Neverending Bookshelf.