The tone in my mother’s voice was a mixture of panic and frustration as she called to me from the gate. ‘You can’t take the horse and cart out by yourself. You don’t know how to yoke it properly. Wait ‘til your father comes home!’
I brought Dolly up through the gates and harnessed her, ignoring my mother’s pleas. I had assured her there was nothing to worry about as I had watched my father so many times prepare the horse and cart for our trips to get wood. I was confident I could do it too, and besides my friends were watching and that made me all the more cocky. My mother’s brow was creased with worry as she stood by wringing her hands. In desperation she threatened to tell my father when he got home from work.
After putting the harness into place and ducking beneath her belly to fasten the under strap I backed Dolly in between the shafts. I slipped the poles into the loops climbed into the cart and directed the girls to do the same. A gentle slap of the reins onto Dolly’s rump signalled her to move forward towards the gate. Once out onto the road I clicked my tongue, as I had heard dad do so many times, and the big mare broke into a trot that caused my friends to giggle with excitement.
At the time I gave no thought to the concern I had caused my poor mother. I couldn’t see what all the fuss was about anyway. But at least she must have been relieved to see that the horse was still between the shafts as we disappeared out of sight.
We trotted along the bitumen and turned off onto the dirt track that led through the forest. The track wound in and out of the big iron-barks and sometimes we had to duck our heads to miss the overhanging branches. Occasionally I had to slow Dolly down to a walk as the track got a bit narrow and there were a few deserted mine shafts close by. Eventually we reached a clearing near the mullock heaps, where I was able to turn the cart around and head for home.
Although our little trip was only a short one, it was a great way to start the school holidays and a big adventure for the four of us. After all there wasn’t a lot to do in a small town, and it was more exciting than a bike ride. We laughed as we were jolted about by the movement of the cart and giggled when Dolly decided to lift her tail and make rude noises out her rear end .
When we turned into the home gate I saw my mother still standing where she had been when we left, relief evident on her face as we all climbed down safely from the cart.
My father was told of the deed I had done. Instead of the scolding I expected, he was full of praise for what I had learned just by watching him. I felt as proud as a peacock.
It was not until years later after I had children of my own that I realised the full extent of the worry I had caused my mother. I was only twelve years old and in charge of a draft horse and cart. My poor mother would have felt responsible for the three other girls, and when we headed off towards the bush, the mine shafts would have been only one of the concerns filling her head as she stood waiting for our return.