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36 • memorial One of the last towns before the desert, certainly the last town which might just be described as belonging to the “wheatbelt.”The far far northeastern boundary, out where the dusty broad-acres meet the scrub, where the rain falls more on what was once the drier side of the fence where the scrub still exists, than the side closer to the “weather,” long cleared to bare bones. Crops worth harvesting only once every four or five years. Mainly sheep grazing, thin, with burrs in their wool. Gnarled creatures, tough to shear.With independent minds and wills that are determined to thwart farmer and shearer alike. Anyone worth their salt would admire them. The scrub around here is one of the final refuges for mallee fowl. Only a few meters in and you might well see a nesting mound. Remarkable things. Further out, the mining companies. Further out still, the “native reserve” land: you need a permit to go there, and it makes the small-town whites shitty and jealous. There is only one Aboriginal family in town itself, and Beacon 37 m e m o r i a l they pass muster only because the father and two of his sons are gun shearers and are in high demand. As a rule, shearers don’t travel out that way if they can avoid it. The town itself is small even by small-town standards. A general store, a pub, a post office, the town hall, a primary school, shire offices, a few dozen houses. There was once a district high school, but that has closed, and all the older kids catch the bus forty k’s to the next town, or else board hundreds of k’s away. Most are happy to leave. At the center of the town, near the town hall, is a memorial park. It is the pride of the town, and precious fresh water is dumped on a small patch of grass and garden surrounding the war memorial there. Many of the more respectable locals in the district call it “our little oasis.” More fertilizer, insecticide, herbicide, water-retaining granules, and water itself are poured on that patch than on the entire footy oval at Subiaco, way down in the city where the Eagles, this town’s preferred AFL team, play. Even their own footy oval—and footy is the sport of the district—is a dustbowl with gimlet trunks, warped and wobbling, painted a rough white, as goalposts. Neither are the houses upright, mostly jerry-built out of iron and asbestos. A few old stone buildings from the earliest days are so roughly hewn, they give the impression of being bent and buckled even if, according to the spirit level, they’re not. The few trees left surrounding the town are gnarled and stunted. In fact, as a visiting wit said, to the memory of all in the pub one night, just before the captain of the football team punched him out,“Your bloody war memorial is the only tall, straight thing in this town.” It was confirmed by all the men and women present that there was something sexually sick in what the visitor was suggesting. “The little oasis” is much loved. Not just for the green glimmer of civilization which both allures and torments the townsfolk, but also for that war memorial. On it are the names of those who have fallen in three wars. Four during the First 38 j o h n k i n s e l l a World War, which came only ten years after the town was founded and the district “opened up,” six from the Second World War, and one fromVietnam. Strangely, every surname is the same. All of the same family. A powerful, respected family in the district. The pioneers. As three of the commemorated have the first name “Reginald,” rather than the family being called by surname, they are known as the “Reggies.”And that’s not just in terms of the dead, but also the living of the family. Male or female, they are the “Reggies.” The male Reggies are shire presidents and heads of the local Country Party, they sit on rural and other official boards and committees; the females have been at the head of the local CWA from its foundation through to the present day. The patriarch of the family, the oldest man in town, is known as Captain Reggie, and is the most revered figure for...


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