Dan Langan was the oldest man in town, nearing ninety, wiry and strong, he still rode his big white mare around the hilly property. We had a common border that appeared as a road on the map where it looked flat. But like other roads of its time, it had been drawn up in Sydney by a draughtsman as far removed from reality as the road was to any chance it would ever be formed. It was probably the same fellow who plotted the course of the Great North Road north of Wiseman’s Ferry, an heroic undertaking that promised a highway to the Hunter valley as grand as any in the world.
Stone work on that road is equal to the best of Macquarie’s grand buildings, costing the colony the labour of hundreds of convicts for years, blasting, shaping blocks and digging culverts, traversing a cliff that would challenge Sir Edmund Hillary. There was even a cave beside the road with a convenient round hole in its roof, called the hanging cave. It is rumored they hanged recalcitrant convicts there with a gibbet erected over the hole, through which unfortunates were dropped, breaking their necks.
Whatever the truth of that, there is a graveyard nearby which I was told holds the hundred and thirty bodies of men who lost their lives in the pursuit of that folly.
Before its steep grade saw real traffic a better way was found by following an Aboriginal path through the Mangrove Creek Valley taking the easier slope out that is now the St Albans Road.
Dan’s fence was an exercise in desperation. What was still standing was held together by baling twine and rust, but with a little repair by me, it seemed to keep my stock in and his out.
That was until the appearance of the red wooly steer. I arrived home to see him, not yet accepted by my four, grazing alone on my side of the fence.
I drove him out my front gate and pushed him into Dan’s place. Then I searched until I found what I thought had been his point of entry and closed the gap.
Next visit he was back.
Bugger. This time he had integrated with mine. They were now mates and would test the fence if they were separated.
It was time to see Dan.
Dan loved a chat and that’s what we had for maybe an hour. A pot of tea and several scones later as Mrs. Langan fussed over us and it was time for business.
‘Well, young feller,’ he said. ‘You didn’t come over here for a chat. What’s on your mind?’
I told him his red steer was back on my side of the fence and maybe we needed to put him in a more secure paddock.
His smile broadened as I spoke until he was laughing.
‘I thought the pest of a thing was yours!’
‘No, he’s not mine.’
‘OK,’ he laughed again. ‘Let’s eat him!’