It should have been captured in oils, but I don’t paint. A cracking sunset, brooding mountains to the west of Kempsey. But the day’s end offered no clues. It would be merely a curtain raiser for an unscheduled showstopper this evening.
Five lures mindlessly cast and rewound in the half-light, created small concentric rings on the surface of the Macleay River. It was mostly a time of quiet until Goose shared another of his profound comments. Goose Ganderton was noted for ear pricking pronouncements.
“Been a whole lotta activity up on the Carrai Plateau lately.”
Silence. We paused for elaboration. Maybe some clarification.
The perch weren’t biting this evening. I was first to bite.
“Watcha talkin’ about Goose?” I snorted, attempting to mask underlying derision about what I guessed would be coming next.
“Extra-terrestrial activity,” he drawled, sucking his breath inwards to indicate minor irritation about the question.
My hunch was spot on.
Mum reckoned Goose should have been a case study for Psychology students. Graham “Goose” Ganderton was a head taller and five years older than the other four anglers. He had few friends his own age. To most, he was an oddball in a conservative country town. This is a tricky path to have to walk but Goose seemed to have been shod with lucky shoes. He’d dodged conscription three years earlier when the government had invited healthy 20 year olds to participate in their great patriotic lottery. And today, in 1971, he was hanging with anyone who’d hear him out, be friendly towards him, not take the piss out of his oddities. This was mostly a younger cohort like myself, and the Dickson twins, and my mate Pete who was Goose’s younger brother. The Dickson boys weren’t identical. One was taller and, in a knockabout town like Kempsey, they’d scored the nicknames Big Dick and Little Dick.
Reeling in and tossing our rods under the she-oaks lining the banks of the Macleay, Goose rolled himself a durry and lit up. Little Dick pulled out a couple of bent Craven A’s from the thigh pocket on his Stubbies and passed one to his twin. Pete cadged a rollie from his brother. I was the only non-smoker. We sat on the bank scanning the glassy river surface, waiting for Goose to flesh out his brainfart.
Goose’s knowledge of weird science was enthralling. He’d once convinced me you can tell the time by staring into a cat’s eyes. Something about diameter and dilation of the pupils. Reckoned some cats run fast, others slow, but most were smack on time. But I’d politely rejected his lame attempt to unload the unwanted furball. And it was Goose who’d declared as fact that plants have feelings and emotions. Just like us, they experience mood swings. Scientifically proven, he said. With probes, sensors and gauges. Researchers had fired-up a chainsaw in front of a tree, and the forest had screamed in silent support as their needles went off the dials. And Goose had insisted that aliens had helped the ancient Britons when they’d dragged their monolithic rocks to Stonehenge 5000 years ago. Being a visual learner, I’d imagined oversized insects operating cables, winches and hovering bulldozers. So it was unsurprising that Goose had cobbled together a small group of like-minded “searchers” and adopted a grand title - Macleay Valley Extra-Terrestrial Investigations. Goose viewed Pete and I as associate members by default.
Head tilted backwards, Goose dramatically exhaled three perfect smoke rings before breaking his silence.
“Daisy Plains. Up on the Carrai Plateau. Word is…” he lowered his voice and furtively cast glances in both directions of the river for effect, “… someone’s been making contact. Could be a local, could be an embedded alien living as a local in the anonymity of the abandoned sawmilling area. I’m going up there to investigate. I’ll sleep in one of the abandoned shacks in the old Kookaburra sawmill. Any of youse boys wanting to come with me?”
Silence again. I pivoted toward Pete. Pete pursed his lips and peered vaguely at a cormorant winging across the river.
Big Dick eventually chimed in, “When are ya goin’ Goose?”
“Now. I’m goin’ straight home to drop off me fishing gear, pick up me sleepin’ bag, me torch and me instamatic camera. Are any of youse comin’ or are youse all too chicken shit?”
The Dickson boys unconvincingly took leave, citing a family meal. I know they were secretly shit scared. I was too, and I’m sure Pete silently shared the sentiment but we needed to save face. Pete and I half-heartedly nodded agreement.
“We’ll hafta take our motorbikes,” Goose elaborated, relishing his authority. “Might need to get up some old log sniggin’ trails in the forest. Cars can’t get through. I’m feeling positive about this. Real positive. Tonight could be our first contact.”
And under my breath I’m muttering, “Bullshit… hope not anyway.”
Kookaburra sawmill was abandoned four years ago, in 1967, and was now a ghost town 80 km up dirt roads and trails from Kempsey. At an altitude of 1000 metres, the forest had quickly reclaimed the hamlet when the tiny community of cedar-getters, wives and kids moved on. We crossed the Macleay River at the Temagog bridge and, with Goose leading, wound our way up seemingly endless dirt roads and trails. I had to thrash the little Suzuki harder than I normally would to avoid losing sight of Goose’s tail lamp. Pete and Goose might have been up these narrow mountain roads before but not me. If I’d lost them, I had bugger-all idea how to return to Kempsey. People had disappeared up here.
Eventually the high pitched buzz of small 2-stroke motors heralded our arrival in the blackness and loneliness of Kookaburra before midnight. Engines cut, we reccied by torchlight and chose a small basic cottage with minimal damage or decay, then unrolled our sleeping bags. Goose insisted we turn off our torches and lie in our bags, ears tuned for any unusual forest noises. As the unelected president of the Macleay Valley Extra-Terrestrial Investigations, he instructed us to stay vigilant and alert, with our eyes focused into the inkiness of the forest. No falling asleep. With starlight as our only source of illumination, I heard every forest noise, every possum fart, every tree that belched. Man, I didn’t need Goose telling me to be hyper-vigilant.
“So what are we looking for Goose? What if we do have an encounter? What’s our plan?” I whispered in the dark.
“Shhhh,” Goose hissed narkily at me, “I dunno! We’ll make it up as we go. See what happens. They’re probably as curious as us. They’ll probably come in peace, they’re just scouts themselves…. need to report back to a mother ship.”
In the darkness, and the privacy of my own sleeping bag, I swallowed hard, my heart rate elevated. I wondered how Pete was faring. Any thrill of selfless scientific investigation had evaporated.
For a further hour I listened acutely, eyes straining through that small glass portal into the infinite vastness of the universe. It was when I realised that Goose was snoring, I couldn’t hold it back any longer. I needed a piss. Urgently. And I’d just struggled quietly out of the warmth of the sleeping bag when the explosion occurred. Wham! On our tin roof. Was it a huge rock? It was earsplitting and my bladder released immediately. Unable to stem the flow of warm urine down the leg of my jeans, I roared out, “Holy crap! What the…?”
Goose and Pete leapt up shouting. In the confusion of being wrenched from sleep, Goose began screaming out, “We come in peace! We come in peace! “
He ricocheted around the blackened cabin desperately trying to locate his camera.
And then I saw the shape out there. I saw it first… an eerie luminous glow just outside the window frame. It was round and green and hovering at eye level close to our window. Pete, paralysed with fear, was struck mute. His older brother Goose, investigator to the end, was motivated by his overarching need to photograph it. Unable to flee, I involuntarily leapt into fight mode. Scrabbling in the dark for anything solid, I located Goose’s camera. Unlike Goose, I wasn’t focused on photography or recording any first contact. No, I was in survival mode as I hurled that little Kodak Instamatic at the glass. The thin pane shattered, followed abruptly by a scream from outside, then a dull collapsing thud. Between short stabbing breaths, I roared out jubilantly, “I got him Goose! I got the green fucker!”
Locating his torch, Goose stormed through the cabin door frantically shouting, “We come in peace! We are a peaceful race!”
Two darkened figures were crouched outside in the blackness underneath the shattered window . One was bent over the slumped form of another who was whimpering pitifully. Pete and I, slashing torchlight around like swordplay, followed Goose outside to confront the stunned intergalactic visitors. To offset any laser weaponry they might have been packing, I snatched up a thin stick for self-defence and began waving it menacingly. Blood was flowing freely from the forehead and eyebrow of the prone visitor. It was Little Dick. The prank that Big Dick had conjured to take the piss out of Goose had badly misfired. Their circular green glow stick lay forlornly on the moist forest soil beside the blood from Little Dick’s head wound. It wasn’t their best Kodak moment. Sadly, with the chaos of our amplified noise and general mayhem, Goose would experience no close encounters tonight. And, from the darkened forest on the lonely Carrai Plateau, silent observers would beam confused and inconclusive reports upwards to their mother ship.