Arrowtown – the rain
It was relentless, relentless, relentless. The rain pounded the tinned roof wave after wave. Thunder rolled then cracked both high and low from out in the west, then continued to crush the sky without reason, squeezing yet more rain from the clouds. Lying there, all Fuk Geung could do was draw his rags around him and feel the chill of his bones permeate his inner self.
The soil was saturated, the run off sheeting away from the front of his hut. The iron above the entrance directed the downpour flow away from the crude door of undressed timbers he had scrounged from the scrub.
The water poured off the hillside and sluiced its way onto his roof, though deeper inside his grotto there was some slight warmth. In all the years since leaving Ballarat, he’d never had to move his abode. In the hill above his hand hewn cave the was a layer of impervious rock which kept his home safe from the seeping ground water above.
But the rain drove on, the clouds didn’t move. They stayed stationary above the valley and dumped everything they could into the creek.
Slowly at first the flow increased. The rounded stones at the bank edge sat like closing eyes as the water rose to submerge each in turn.
The rolling thunder followed by the occasional deep crack of lightning tearing the sky was ceaseless. He huddled on his bed, a low affair of hessian sacking stitched at the edges with string to a cross legged bracing for support over the earthen floor. At least it was dry.
Pools of water now formed in front of the doorway, the edges flowing down the slope to the creek from which he eked his living.
The garden beds were mostly higher than the usual flooding levels, he had lost just one crop to the raging torrents which almost inevitably followed such deluges.
Fuk Geung could hear the rain subsiding, and caught a glimpse of the sky lighting itself though faint at first. On not many days had he been able to see the sun at this time from his bed. He would have been more usually in the dark soil plots for perhaps four hours by now, to make the best of the time and the coming day’s warmth before nights cold shroud descended. He wondered when the rain might ease. The wind picked up from the west and blowing a little harder tried to force rain through the doorway. The planking he had propped at the entrance bore the brunt.
“How different this is” he had thought to himself many times since being expelled from the diggings at Ballarat The shame of returning to his home village empty handed was too great, and he had opted for a passage to the wilds of New Zealand, and then Arrowtown, where rumour was there was more gold than in the Big Gold Mountain. He didn’t care to think how many years ago that was, knowing only that had to be at least ten years, for his body told him so.
The gold he came for was long gone, the easy pickings taken, the carpet baggers and authorities talking up the prospects for profit and tax reasons.
He longed for the rain to cease, but realised that this enforced stop work would do his aching body some good. He had been feeling the years of solitude and hopelessness. He knew that one day he would be part of the soil on which he was now living, but then consumed by it.
From all the times he had seen, the hopes he had brought with him, none remained. A life without children and a land without friends were his lot.
The breaking thunder rolled on and he counted the seconds of its impact. Could that really have been nine seconds he wondered? He had estimates earlier that the time was five seconds, and now it seemed softer in tone, without doubt it rolling away and on and on.
His mind wandered and the smoke from his pipe found its way to the door, then swirled back into the tiny space he called home. He lay looking out over his feet at the doorway. There was no risk of a visitor. The sheet and his few clothes piled high on the bed were his only blankets for warmth.
Then as fast as it had come, the puddles in front of the entrance were sucked into the soil. The rain eased and moved east, the thunder rolls became more distant. Small birds resumed their calling, finding out who was still here and not drowned or driven away by the storm’s cacophony. He knew he needed to rise now and start this day’s labours
The garden patch was slightly upstream from his cave home, and he had achieved the land through a summer of cutting digging and banking. This work for his home village would have been a mammoth task, but for one man, this was an achievement of heroism. He had known others who had failed. He knew that he must keep the soil from disappearing year after year, as fertility was a blessing of each crop if successfully rotated.
He set about the day’s work.