Learned in the Old Ways

Jon Chaiim McConnell

To begin hunting kangaroo, you must first make sure your mulga club is smoothed round and secured with a tie of leather to the spear. My son says that he does not like this. I tell him that it’s then a ride out the half day from Port Phillip to find a hardy Briton—mine’s name is Percival—at the outfitter’s with the signage awry and he will have experience and some comrades he trusts. Americans; nimble. My son does not like this either. He travels with me, self-burdened with his satchels, loudly anxious if without a week’s supply of jerky or his fire steel. He is unsteady on my horse, and he clutches to me with young zeal, bless him. Bless him from death. I aim to grow the boy to any activity that will have him. After Percival has copied a bill of sale out for his men and himself I hire them the material, the netting improved along with greased hemp knots, the shin wraps made from wallaby, the thickly reeded breast matting. My son does not like this most of all, as we walk with the men to the torn apart stables sun-blasted through to the colors of the wood and I stand him on the cross-angled stool there to size the men at the shoulders. He pulls at the strappings as angrily as he can; the Americans laugh and roll cigarettes. I whet the spears and cap them by the weathered stall beams. My son will accustom to the work. I pay for their rooms and their meals for the night and play faro with Percival until the tallow candle begins to struggle and my son falls asleep on the floor. Percival has his honor; we quit together and shake hands halfway through the game and then finish the brandy. He leaves, nodding and nodding. I cover my son with a quilt of patched skins…

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