Excerpt from “Over The Hills” by Bernard O’Reilly ~~Dance~~

picture-OverTheHills-OReillyThe Nights of the Kerry Dancing

Those were the nights! There’d be bubbling excitement in the afternoon, the polishing of shoes, the ironing of shirts and collars, a very serious ritual with no mother around the humpy; the flat irons were stood up in front of the open fire and then wiped carefully on brown paper before they were allowed to touch the sacred cloth; with collars it was trial and error – four would be starched and ironed and the best one taken.
Then there was the running down and the catching of sleek, shiny wild horses. You needed good horses. At its best it was a four-hour ride to Kerry Hall; along two miles of jungle to the plateau rim; down the old cliff track to the gorge, out through the long dark tunnel to Kerry road, then down along the bluegum flats and through many deep rocky crossings of the Albert River.
Maybe I’d have stores to bring back next day so it would be a string of packhorses that I’d be driving off in front of me as I rode off at sunset; fat shiny fellows, bucking with their empty pack saddles; I with my “good” clothes tied in a valise in front of the saddle, yelling murder at the horses as we raced through the jungle twilight.
Then the cliff track which struck awe even into the heart of a seventeen-year-old bushranger; blazing afterglow beyond the sawtoothed divide fifty miles away, the heaving billows of purple country between, Ding Bing Falls back to the right, a silver ribbon tying the higher jungle to the lower, and just under my right stirrup over the cliff an abyss of dark green where a stone started from a horse’s hoof brought back no sound or echo from below. Above, a gaunt cathedral of volcanic rock towered to the darkening sky, riddled with blowholes, the home of the great-eared bats, those black butterflies of hell which streamed out in their thousands to mingle their dark wings with the deepening gloom. Those were solemn moments even for a high-spirited youngster with high-spirited horses.
Deeper down the range we left the bats and met the owls, the nightjars and the frogmouths, who spoke softly through the coming night.
We would go down along the cutting through the gums where the blue possums chuckled and the koalas cried, where the night wind rustled the gum leaves and keened softly through the drooping she-oaks. The going would be slower there too; our horses, reared on the artificial grasses, paspalum and Rhodes grass, of the jungle clearings, would taste the sweetness of our own kangaroo grass, which grew breast-high to a man on the lower mountain. Bu there would be stars to cool your hot blood and stem your impatience.
So we would go down the range, the plodding packhorses ahead snorting, cropping and blowing pollen from their nostrils, and presently we would reach the bottom of the gorge and then there’d be the jungle, its deep dark tunnel of track, the incessant flicker of fire-flies and the glow-worms which shone from dark creek banks. Here the wild blood of the pioneers and bushrangers would rise. I would yell and curse the horses, then we’d go down the jungle at a half-gallop, the bucking packhorses in front with their saddles tearing through the vines, I lying flat on my saddle in the pitch blackness under the reaching arms of the jungle with its thorn vines and Gympie leaves.
Then we’d be out in the open again with the white stars and the white gums and the good smell of crushed kangaroo grass under the horses’ feet. The smell of orchids which we had left behind in the jungle gave way to the smell of bottle-brushes by the river and that damp, watery, weedy smell of the deep dark waterhole down by the junction. The splashings through the river, the mile-long Kerry flats where we pounded along with the wind in our ears, and then the ridges where we got our breath and the breath of flowering bluegums.
Presently there would be the joining in of other young bushrangers, all well mounted and headed for Kerry Hall. More river crossings, more racing under the gums; the barking of dogs from each homestead, with perhaps a yell of “Wait for me!” and, whilst we waited, the rustlings and the scents of high tasselling corn.
Strange, it seems now, that although the dance was the one cause of all this mad night riding, the dancing was the one thing that left no impression nor anything worth recording. Though I remember Leslie Egan, who’d just returned from France, singing “Roses in Picardy,” and again Ken Watterson singing “A Perfect Day,” the dancing and music seem to have faded with the years, so that all of those nights of the Kerry dancing there remains only a symphony of rushing wind, of starlight and ghostly gums and the galloping hooves of horses.


1 Comment

Filed under Literature, Non-Fiction

One response to “Excerpt from “Over The Hills” by Bernard O’Reilly ~~Dance~~

  1. Bernard O’Reilly was born in Hartley, New South Wales on 3 September 1903, and died in Beaudesert, Queensland on 20 January 1975, aged 71 years.
    ‘Over The Hills’ was published in 1963.

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