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By Bryce Courtenay

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Sample text

The shearing season at Riverview Station begins the first week in July, with the early mornings freezing cold and the frost white on the ground. The shearing starts at six-thirty in the morning unless it’s rained during the night, when it starts at ten, after the sheep have dried in the sun. Half of what little rain comes in the south-west falls in the winter, the best eight inches of the year, God’s half. The other half comes in the heat and is pulled out of the soil by the remorseless sun before it can do any good, that’s the Devil’s half.

Billy’s your mate, Jack,’ she says. ‘It don’t matter if he throws a few more than you. Joe always reckons that if you do things right in the first place you get faster, it’s just natural. He says the real gun shearers don’t waste blows and seem to have plenty of time to make them clean. ’ Jack is silent a while, then looks up at Jessica, his eyes narrowed. ‘If you were a bloke I’d probably have to fight you, Tea Leaf. Or leastways tell you to mind your own business. ’ Jessica grins. ’ Jack laughs.

If it’s cranky there’ll be no stopping it. ’ Jessica forces back her fear and makes herself face the river bank, knowing there must be snakes all about her, expecting one to rear up at any moment. An Eastern brown strikes high in an S shape, and could come up out of the scrub to her left or right any second. She waits a few seconds longer, holding the shotgun at the ready, then she runs for the path up from the river. Reaching the path she begins the half-mile walk back to the homestead, trying to keep a steady pace, looking back over her shoulder every few moments.

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