“Let go of me, let go,” Sam yelled. Suddenly Sam’s horse reared up, hooves flying, which made the sheep rustler holding Sam momentarily loosen his grip. Sam instantly pulled away and mounted Snowstorm. “The kid’s getting away. Stop him! Stop him or else our game’s blown!”
Sam reined Snowstorm toward the grasping men. “Go boy,” Sam urged, “through them.”
A sudden barking outside his bedroom woke Sam. He jerked upward, eyes wide and sweat pouring from his brow.
“Crickey, Blackie!” he called through the window, “you spoiled a great dream I was having.” Blackie had proved wayward as a sheep dog, which is how he became Sam’s pet. In fact he wasn’t even black—he was a red-brown—but Sam’s father reckoned he must have been the “black-sheep” of his family. So Blackie became his name.
Sam jumped out of bed and peered out of the window. Blackie looked up eagerly, his tail wagging excitedly. He gave a couple of extra woofs, as if to say, “Good, I’ve woken Sam. Now he’ll come out and play.”
Magpies warbled in the eucalypt trees surrounding the farm, competing with the raucous galahs. Chickens scratched and scurried around in the warmth of the early morning summer sun.
“Crikey, what a beaut day to start the school holidays,” Sam thought. He leaned out of the window and patted Blackie. “I can’t ride you, like the horse in my dream, but at least today we’re going to explore the sandhills. You might be able to chase a few rabbits or maybe a kangaroo.” When Blackie heard the word “rabbits” his tail wagged excitedly, but he wasn’t too sure about kangaroos—past experiences had made him wary.
“Go around and wait at the back door, Blackie, and after breakfast we’ll go to the sandhills.” Sam closed the window and as if he understood every word, Blackie scampered away to wait for Sam at the door.
Sam’s mother and father were almost finished breakfast when Sam came into the kitchen. “Sam Rivers, I wondered when you were going to get up,” his mother said. “You look bright this morning.”
“Blackie’s barking woke me right in the middle of a great dream. I had just escaped the sheep rustlers Dad told me about the other day, when Blackie’s barking spoiled everything,” he chuckled.
“Anything planned for today Sam?” asked his father.
“Sure have Dad. Blackie and I are going up to the sandhills with the guys.” The ‘guys’ were Sam’s friends from the farm across the road. At fourteen years old both Sam and Pete were the same age, although Sam was slightly the taller of the two.
Sam also had a swag of blonde hair which dropped over his freckled face, whereas Peter was dark haired and swarthy. Kate was twelve and had long brown hair. Mike was ten and had an almost shaven head. “So the nits wouldn’t get in his hair,” said his mum. They went to the same school and caught the same school bus morning and night.
But today was the first day of the school holidays and they planned to explore the sandhills on Sam’s property.
“Well be careful,” said Sam’s father. “The sheep rustlers are still in the district. When I was up at the outer paddock this morning, old Thomas came over and told me that several of his sheep are missing. He thinks they were stolen last night. I wouldn’t want you to get mixed up with the rustlers. They could get nasty.”
“Crickey Dad, you don’t expect the rustlers to hang around do you? Sounds like they only work in the night anyway,” Sam joked. “Besides, we’ll have Blackie with us. You know how he growls at strangers.”
A loud knocking at the door interrupted. “Sam, we’re here,” Pete called.
“Come in,” Sam replied, as they opened the door. “Take a seat while I finish my breakfast and then we’ll be off.”
“Hi guys. Would you like to have some toast while Sam finishes?’ Sam’s mother asked the trio.
Pete and Mike nodded enthusiastically. “Me too,” replied Kate, “I could eat a horse!”
“Yep, she could,” Mike exclaimed, looking at Sam’s mother with his big brown eyes. “Mum says she’s never full.”
Sam’s mother smiled. “OK, Katie,” she said affectionately, “At least we can give you some toast.”
So they enjoyed their toast and chatted whilst Sam finished his breakfast. An occasional whine at the door reminded them that Blackie was still waiting!
It wasn’t long before breakfast was over and they were on their way. As usual Blackie ran ahead barking wildly, warning the rabbits and kangaroos to beware.
“What a beaut start to the holidays,” Kate said as they ambled along the dusty dirt road and soaked up the sun. Ahead, the sandhills rose above the flat paddocks and in the heat, shimmered on the horizon.
“The sandhills look like an eerie castle, Sam,” said Pete. “They send a bit of a shiver down your spine.”
“Crikey, I’ve been waiting for this day for ages!” exclaimed Sam, “I reckon I haven’t been here in over a year.”
“They’re ginormous—and they do look a bit scary,” said Mike.
“Well, dad did say that in the old days the indigenous people used the sandhills for some sort of meeting place, so I suppose it could be eerie from that point of view,” Sam replied.
“Oh yeah, right. I suppose you’re going to tell us that there are ghosts there too?” Kate laughed.
“Nah, dad says there’s more to fear from the living than the dead!” Sam said, surprised by his own philosophical tones.
They came to a large gate which Sam’s father had made from the local trees. Like most rough farm gates it was hinged at one end and wide enough to let trucks and tractors through. Wire mesh nailed across its frame prevented animals wandering from paddock to paddock. This one separated the grain paddocks from the sheep and the kangaroos. Sam unhooked the wire loop that acted as a simple lock and opened the gate just enough for them all to squeeze through.
“Wow, it sure is a hot day Sam,” said Peter. “And we still have to climb the slope before we get to the sandhills.”
After about an hour’s trudge from the farm house they came to the base of the sandhills. Rising like the towers of an ancient fairy-tale castle, the sandhills jutted above the surrounding countryside. Even at this point—and they hadn’t even began to climb—they could see Sam’s house in the distance on the left side of the road and on the right, a little closer, Pete, Kate and Mike’s farm.
Below the sandhills, scattered mobs of sheep grazed.
“Wow! What a view. You can almost see for ever,” said Pete. “If I was going to build a castle, this is where I would build it.”
“Hey! That’s not a bad idea,” said Kate, “why don’t we build a fort here?”
“Crikey, that’s a great idea. No one need know about it,” enthused Sam. “Perhaps Dad will let us bring up some old timber and stuff to build one.”
Suddenly Blackie began a low growling at something in the shadows of the low lying prickle bushes, his eyes narrowing. Kate looked nervous, “What is it Blackie?” she asked.
Her heart jumped as a rabbit shot out from under the bushes and Blackie took off in hot pursuit.
“Crikey, it’s only a rabbit!” Sam laughed. “For a moment I was worried. Anyway the rabbits are safe. I’ve never seen him catch one yet—I doubt if he would know what to do with one if he did.”
“I’ll betcha you thought it had something to do with ghosts Mike?” Kate teased.
“Did not! And—and I’m not scared of rabbits.”
“Come on you two, save your breath for the slope—unless you want to walk round the long way,” Sam said.
“No—no, let’s go, this is fun,” laughed Peter as he struggled to get a foothold in the loose sand. “This is just like beach sand.”
The sandhills rose before them, a massive cluster of hills upon hills of sand with most covered in wild vegetation. Large prickle bushes were everywhere, overgrown by an ivy-like vine.
“Crikey, it’s like a jungle,” said Sam. “Where has Blackie gone?”
Blackie’s frantic barking from the middle of a clump of bushes on the side of the hill answered Sam’s question. “Look!” exclaimed Sam, “there’s a passage under those bushes. It looks just like a tunnel.”
They all kneeled down and looked under the bushes and saw Blackie growling and barking at the entrance of an old rabbit warren. “Looks like you missed out again Blackie,” Sam consoled, “maybe next time.”
“Hey, this would make a great place for a fort!” exclaimed Sam.
“Yeah and look, there’s a small clearing in the middle of the bushes and a sandhill at the back of them,” Pete added.
“And this passage would be a secret entrance,” said Kate excitedly.
“It’s a great spot. Let’s climb in and explore it,’ said Sam. He was the first to crawl under the over-hanging bushes.
“I hope there’s no spiders—if there’s one thing I hate, it’s spiders!”
“Lucky you’re in the front because I don’t much like spiders either,” said Pete as he and the others followed. By this time Blackie had given up on the rabbit and curiously watched as Sam and his friends crawled on hands and knees toward him. He bounded up to Sam and licked his face.
“Crickey Blackie. Yuk—stop slobbering all over me,” shouted Sam, “I can’t see where I’m going.”
They reached the entrance of the old rabbit warren, which had been dug into the wall of the sandhill. The prickle bushes hid the entrance, but the sun still penetrated the sparse branches above.
“Well, there is more room in here than I thought,” said Sam, “and still plenty of light.”
“This is an excellent spot to build a fort, Sam,” said Kate. “No-one could easily find the entrance but we can see back through the bushes.”
Sam looked around. “You’re right Kate, it’s an excellent spot,” Sam replied, “but let’s explore the rest of the sandhills in case there are even better places.”
Although they spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the cluster of sandhills, they did not find a better spot for their fort than the one discovered by Blackie.
“We had better get home,” said Sam, “I promised Dad I would do a couple of chores around the farm and it will take a while to get back.”
“Good idea—it’s too spooky,” said Mike. “We’re tired anyway.”
“Ok, let’s go,” Sam said, “even Blackie looks pooped.”
In fact Blackie had chased so many rabbits he did not bother to wag his tail when he spotted more on the way home.
As they passed the entrance to their secret hideaway they could see mobs of sheep gathering in the paddock below them.
“Looks like we have to walk through the sheep,” said Peter.
“Cool,” said Mike with a glint of mischief in his eye as picked up a stick. “I might just give one a whack on the way through.”
“You will not,” scolded Kate, “You shouldn’t hurt animals.”
“Well I can whack a snake,” Mike said, to justify himself.
“Crikey, Mike if you see a snake, warn us before you whack it and we’ll clear out!” Sam laughed. “Have you ever seen how fast a snake can go?”
“Well, you better think twice before you try to whack a snake. He’ll be after you in no time.”
*Chapter 2 *
“Baz, do we really need to do this. Isn’t it kidnapping?”
“Shut up and keep driving. You want the money, don’t yer?”
“No buts—hang on, we’re almost there. Stop the truck!”
The truck jerked to a halt.
“Cripes Ted, you almost put us through the windscreen.”
“Uh, sorry boss. You told me to stop.”
“Get out, you oaf, all of you get out. At least it’s the perfect night. Cloudy and windy, the perfect camouflage.”
The four of them tumbled out of the truck. “Watch it Jessie, you almost fell on top of me.”
“Sorry Jack, I can hardly see a thing—and it’s creepy out here this time of the night.”
The wind moaned through the mallee trees—first this way, then that, casting ghostly shadows. The howling of worried sheep dogs echoed somewhere in the darkness.
Baz gave a low growl. “Jack, you take Ted and get the old farmers and lock them in the shearer’s quarters. Me and Jessie will get the sheds ready for the sheep trucks.”
“And remember, no mess ups and no rough stuff. The big boss wouldn’t be happy.”
“Yeah, yeah. Don’t worry. As long as they don’t put up a fight they’ll be okay.”
Baz and Jessie melted into the night toward the farm sheds as Jack and Ted slipped into the shadows and crept toward the silhouetted homestead.
“You go around the back,” Jack whispered, “case they try and make a run for it. Baz says they don’t lock any doors, so this should be a knock over.”
“Right, I’m orf then.” Ted replied, “Just remember, no rough stuff. We’re not here to hurt nobody.”
“Ah, ya pussy.”
“This is going to be perfect,” Jack thought, “the wind is camouflaging our approach. The old couple will never hear us come.”
He came to the door and slowly turned the handle. It was unlocked as Baz said. “Good, no squeaks. So far, so good.”
The door opened into the kitchen. The aroma of freshly baked bread and the warmth of the wood oven still hung about the room. He quickly stepped inside to stop the wind waking the cocky and his wife.
“There’s the bedroom door, just as Baz said,” Jack thought. “The old cocky and his wife will be asleep.”
Suddenly a rat scurried across the floor. “Yikes.” Jack jumped with fright and landed on a creaky floorboard.
“What? Who—who’s there?”
“Ar, now I’ve woken them.”
Jack rushed for the bedroom door and burst in. “Don’t move—or else you’ll get hurt,” Jack shouted. “Just get dressed and no funny business.”
Ted came through the back door after hearing the commotion. “Everything under control Jack?”
“Yeah Ted. I’ll watch these two whilst you sms Baz and let him know everything’s fine.”
Jack gave the old man a shove, “come on, get a move on. You heard what I said, get dressed.”
“Get your hands off me. Core blimey, you’re going to get into trouble. What are you up to? You can’t do this to us.”
“Ha, we can do anything we wants. Who’s going to stop us?” Jack sniggered.
“You can have our money, only don’t hurt us,” the old woman whimpered.
“Nah, we’re not interested in your money. We’re going to get plenty soon – but you can give me some of that bread I smelt when I came in.”
“It’s—it’s on the sideboard next to the oven, under the tea towel.”
“O.K, now get a move on. We’re taking you down to the shearer’s quarters.” They shuffled through the kitchen and Jack grabbed a couple of the bread rolls. “Mmm, these are nice, just as me mum used to make.”
“Jack, I’ve sms’d Baz, and he said to put them into the shearer’s hut.”
“O.K, you watch the old lady and I’ll keep an eye on the cocky—and you lead the way.”
Soon they were at the door to the shearer’s quarters, and Jack shoved them inside.
“It would take a herd of wild elephants to break this door down,” Jack said as he closed the thick wooden door and bolted it from the outside.
“Now youse two, keep quiet and you won’t get hurt. Baz said you keep plenty of grub in there so you should be ok.”
“Come on Ted, we’ll give Baz a hand. The big boss will be ‘ere’ soon to make sure everythins’ ready for the sheep rustling.”
The next day the four friends met together at Sam’s place to plan the fort. As usual Blackie could not restrain his excitement, barking and scampering around as if he were chasing rabbits.
“Sam, I couldn’t sleep last night because I was thinking of different plans for the fort,” said Pete excitedly. “I even drew a few sketches to show you.”
“Great, we have plenty of paper here as well and we can look at your drawings and do some more if necessary,” said Sam. “Mum said we can use the kitchen table but I’m sorry Blackie, you’ll have to wait outside.”
Blackie sensed that they were not going to visit the sandhills so he lay down, his big eyes drooping mournfully.
Sam’s mother was clearing the breakfast table as the four entered. “Hello,” she said smiling, “plenty of ideas for this fort of yours?”
“Yes,” said Kate “Isn’t it exciting?”
At that moment Sam’s father walked in. “Hi guys,” he said. “Did I hear someone say they are going to do something exciting? Nothing exciting around here, unless you call sheep rustling exciting. Apparently about twenty more sheep disappeared from a property down the road last night.”
“Dad what would anyone want with a few sheep?” asked Sam.
“Well, the rustlers take a few sheep from different properties every night. Add them up and it probably amounts to a couple of hundred sheep over a few weeks,” said his father. “And a few missing sheep are hardly ever noticed and the theft might not be reported for months, if ever.”
“What about our sheep, have any of ours been stolen?” Sam asked.
“I don’t think so, but yesterday afternoon I moved them into the paddock behind the sandhills which is out of sight of the road. Not too many trucks could drive through the sand to get to them.”
“Oh right. That’s why all the sheep were there yesterday,” said Kate. “I wondered why we hadn’t seen them in the morning.”
“Come on you lot, let’s start planning our fort. We don’t need to worry about sheep thieves,” said Peter impatiently, “let’s draw some plans for our fort.”
“Right, I will leave you to it,” said Sam’s father as he rose to leave, “but whatever you do, don’t dig tunnels in the sandhills. It’s too dangerous. They could cave in and bury you.”
“We won’t,” they chorused as they gathered excitedly around the table.
“Well,” said Sam’s mother, “I too will leave you to get on with your drawing. I have work to do.”
“Dad told me that we can use old wooden packing cases for the walls and roof,” said Sam, “which should save us a lot of building.” He picked up a pencil and quickly drew a rough sketch.
“That looks like one of the plans I have drawn,” exclaimed Peter as he unfolded his drawings. “Only mine has a lookout on the top.” They all looked at both Sam’s and Peter’s sketches and noticed the similarities.
“Crikey, that’s a great idea. I can’t see why we shouldn’t have a lookout. It would probably help us see above the bushes,” said Sam. “And I don’t think we need to draw any more plans because we have a basic design already. What about we go and look at the packing case Dad told me about?”
“Cool,” Mike said looking seriously, “all this drawing is a bit like kindergarten.”
They found the wooden packing case in the tractor shed. It had been dismantled and the pieces stacked against a wall. “Boy, that was a big box,” exclaimed Mike as he looked wide-eyed at the great wooden panels lying up against the wall.
“Yes it was,” explained Sam. “Dad bought some tractor parts and the interstate dealer delivered them in this big wooden box.”
“It looks as if all we need to do is to put all the walls back together again and pull a couple of planks off for a door and we have our fort,” added Peter as he looked over the rough panels. “The question is, how are we going to get all of this up to the sandhills?”
“Dad will take them up there on our truck,’ replied Sam, “he won’t mind.”
With that problem out of the way they began to gather all the things needed to build their fort.
“Dad also said that we can use any of the tools in the old tool box in the shed. He said there’s nothing we can hurt in there,” Sam laughed.
“Well, here’s a hammer—and some nails,” Peter laughed, “looks like it was last used building Noah’s ark.”
“And this wire will come in handy,” added Mike.
“What about we take these wheat sacks to use as carpets?” asked Kate. “They will save us sitting on the sand.”
“Crikey, you’re full of good ideas Kate,” said Sam. Kate couldn’t help blush but hated herself for it.
Even Blackie gave a few “woofs” as if to say, “Why are you wasting time in here when we could be having fun up at the sandhills?” But his ears pricked up when Peter said, “That’s about everything we need. I’ll ask Dad to take it up to the sandhills for us this afternoon.” Blackie ran around in circles, barking excitedly.
“I think he understood you Sam. He heard you mention sandhills,” laughed Mike as he watched Blackie’s wild antics.
Just at that moment Sam’s father drove into the shed and climbed out of the cab of the truck. “Dad, would you mind taking this stuff up to the sandhills today so that we can start building our fort?” asked Sam.
“Ok, no problem, provided you guys help me load and unload. Agreed?”
Four enthusiastic grins answered his question.
After a lot of grunting and heaving, the boxes were loaded. Then they clambered aboard and headed for the sandhills. As usual Blackie raced ahead, tongue hanging out and scampering from side to side of the track in front of the swaying truck.
“The dog is more excited about going to the sandhills than you lot,” said Sam’s father.
“He’s probably thinking of all the rabbits up there,” said Kate, who was riding in the cabin with Sam’s father whilst the boys rode on the tray top to ensure sure none of the timber fell off.
They drove along the winding sandy track beside a wheat field and slowly approached the gate that separated the sheep from the grain fields. Sam’s father put his head out of the window, “Sam, run ahead and unhook the gate.”
Sam jumped from the truck and ran ahead and lifted the wire loop to release the gate. He dragged it open allowing the truck through, then closed and re-hooked the gate to the fence post. The sandhills shimmered eerily in the distance. The truck moved slowly forward and through the mob of sheep, which scattered in all directions. Soon they reached the hills and Sam’s father brought the truck up behind one of them. He climbed from the cab and said, “if we go any further we’ll get bogged.”
“This should be okay Dad,” replied Sam. Besides, they didn’t want to show anyone where they planned to build the fort. This was to be a secret fort.
“How long are you going to keep the sheep on this side of the sandhills Dad?” asked Sam.
“It’s hard to say. We’ll probably keep them here until it appears the rustlers have left the district or they get caught.”
Soon the four friends unloaded the truck aided by Sam’s father. He even helped them lift the heavier pieces up the sandhill.
“Now remember, no digging tunnels in the sand and don’t be late for tea—or else mum will get worried, or angry—probably both!” he chuckled.
“Crikey Dad, our stomachs’ will tell us when its time,” said Sam impishly. “Besides I’ve got the mobile with me.”
The four watched as Sam’s father turned the truck and drove away, the tyres causing a wide circular pattern in the sand.
“Oh, good one! What a burnout.” giggled Kate.
“Nah, that’s not a burnout—that’s a cool wheelie,” added Mike.
“I’m sure Dad would like to be known for that,” Sam chuckled, “Come on, we’d better get started because there is a lot to be done.”
At that moment, Blackie scampered out from under the prickle bushes and gave a “woof” as if to tell them he had found the entrance. “Good boy Blackie,” Sam said as he patted the panting dog. “Woof, woof,” Blackie barked as if to say, “thank you.” They spent the next couple of hours energetically clearing away the centre of the bushes and nailing pieces of the packing cases together.
They made a doorway by removing two of the planks from the panel facing the entrance under the bushes. Then they joined them together and made a door by nailing pieces of scrap timber to them.
“Until we figure out how we can make some hinges for the door we will just pull it over the opening when we leave,” said Sam.
“Sam, why don’t we also cut a hole in the roof and make a trap door? We can make a ladder and use the roof as a lookout as we mentioned at your place,” suggested Peter.
“Good one Pete,” replied Sam, “we can easily do that by cutting some of the roofing planks and making a door from them. No one would ever know there was an opening there.”
After the walls had been erected, Kate cleared the floor space and placed the wheat bags on the ground to make things more comfortable.
“Hey, I reckon we should take a break and celebrate the building of our secret fort,” said Sam. “We can have the drink and biscuits mum gave us.”
“Cool,” said Mike excitedly, “this will be our first meal in our secret fort.”
“We mustn’t forget Blackie,” said Kate, “he has been standing guard and deserves to have something to eat too.”
Blackie heard his name mentioned and bounded up to them.
“I don’t know about standing guard,” said Sam, “the way he is panting I think he may have been racing around the sandhills chasing rabbits.”
“Well never mind," said Kate,” let’s have the goodies!” All agreed and even Blackie “woofed” as if he understood perfectly. They crawled through the door into the fort and sat in a circle and shared the biscuits between them and gave Blackie one as well.
“Yuck,” exclaimed Peter,” Blackie just licked my biscuit! Now I will have to give it to him.”
“He probably did that on purpose,” said Sam, “you have to watch what you do with your food when you’re sitting down at Blackie’s level.”
Kate couldn’t stop herself from giggling as she watched Blackie gulp down Peter’s biscuit.
“It’s alright for you to laugh Kate,” said Peter, “it’s not your biscuit.” The disbelieving tone of Peter’s reply only made Kate laugh more—so much that she dropped a piece of biscuit, which Blackie immediately pounced on. They all burst out laughing.
Blackie knew that it was enjoyable but couldn’t understand why they were laughing so much.
Suddenly Sam stopped laughing and looked at his watch. “Crikey, it’s getting near tea time. We’d better go,” he said. They gathered up all the tools and put them into a corner for the next day’s work and before leaving Sam pulled the make-shift door over the entrance. “This will keep the rabbits and snakes out,” Sam said.
“Hey, I hope we don’t ever come across a snake,” shuddered Kate, “I hate them.”
“Well I don’t exactly love them either, but if you leave them alone they will leave you alone,” said Sam, “as long as Mike doesn’t try and whack them!”
As they crawled out from under the bushes, Sam collected a few of the broken branches and swept the entrance. “This will make the surface smooth so it doesn’t look as if anyone has been crawling in and out,” he said.
“Sam, that’s brilliant. Where did you get that idea?” asked Peter.
“I’m not sure. I think I read it in a book once.”
Sam finished his sweeping then they wandered through the sandhills following the tracks that the truck had made earlier. Soon they were in the sheep paddock trudging homeward.
“We had a great time yesterday mum,” said Sam as he ate his breakfast. “We built the fort in no time. We’re going back up to the sandhills today. Dad has given me some old hinges to put on the door and we have to fix the roof and make a small ladder. Then it’s finished. Not only that, dad said we could take the two trail bikes!”
His mother looked at him and raised an eye-brow, “Sam Rivers, you be careful! I know you and Peter are okay on the bikes, but take it easy if you have Kate and Mike on the back.”
“Crikey mum, you know I’ll be careful. By the way, could we take some sandwiches and drinks today?”
“Of course. I suppose you’re going to form one of those secret clubs and have adventures like the ones you read about,” Sam’s mother grinned.
“Mum you can’t invent adventures, they just happen,” Sam replied, knowing that his mother was only joking.
“Well, try not to let any happen. I don’t want any of you getting hurt.”
Just then Peter called at the back door, “Hey Sam, are you ready?”
“Sure, come in,” Sam replied as he finished his last mouthful of breakfast cereal. Peter, Kate and Mike burst inside and all of them began talking at the same time.
“I’ve brought a small wooden crate that we can use for a table so the food doesn’t get sandy,” said Kate. Mike interrupted her and blurted, “and mum gave us a cake and some drinks.”
“Well,” said Sam’s mother, “it seems as if all I need prepare is some sandwiches.”
“And I have some exciting news too,” Sam said smiling, “Dad is allowing us to take the two trail bikes.”
“Oh wow,” Peter exclaimed, “this sounds adventurous already!”
Sam’s mother looked at him and smiled a knowing smile as she passed him the cut sandwiches which she had packed in a bag. “Now, all of you be careful,” she said, “adventure or no adventure, I don’t want any of you hurt.”
They all chorused, “We won’t,” as they picked up their things and set off for the sandhills.
Both Sam and Peter had ridden the motor bikes on their farms so it was nothing new. Kate rode on the back with Peter and Mike with Sam who balanced the small crate on the fuel tank with the sandwiches and a few other things inside. Soon the wind was racing through their hair as they rode toward the sandhills along the rutted track.
Of course Blackie wasn’t going to let them go to the sandhills without him. He dashed ahead of the bikes barking as usual and crossing the track from side to side.
When they came to the sheep gate Sam asked Mike to run ahead and let the group through. Blackie pushed past them barking excitedly and ran towards a mob of grazing sheep. They scattered in all directions as Blackie tore through the middle of them toward the sandhills.
“He wants to get there first in case there are some rabbits,” said Peter.
“Well, you see what the sheep did? That’s what every rabbit will do when they hear him coming,” Sam chuckled as Blackie disappeared into the clouds of dust caused by the panicking sheep.
Soon they arrived at the sandhills. “Look Sam, exclaimed Mike, “the wheelie marks left by your father’s truck are still there.”
“And still in a neat circular pattern,” added Kate very observantly.
“They’ll be there a long time too,” Sam said, “unless we have some rain, but there’s not much chance of that in the middle of summer.”
Blackie’s barking took their attention away from the wheel marks. “How’s that,” laughed Peter, “Blackie is at the secret entrance to the fort. He must have known that we were going to work on it today.”
Blackie scurried around at the entrance barking non stop as if to say, here it is, here it is. The four came to the bushes and scrambled underneath the overhanging branches which hid the entrance. Sam removed the make-shift door they had propped against the entrance. Everything was as they had left it. “Now Pete, what about you and Mike make a trapdoor in the roof while I put hinges on our entrance door?” Sam suggested.
“Kate, you’re fairly nifty with a hammer. What about making the ladder?”
“Ok, will do.”
They all busied themselves in their tasks. After hanging the door Sam made a latch from a piece of fencing wire, by nailing one end to the door and hooking the other end over a nail in the wall. “How’s everything going with you Pete and Mike?” Sam asked.
“Okay,” replied Peter, “just about to fix a couple of pieces of wood on the ceiling to support the planks we have sawn through.”
“Well, Mike’s already on the roof. Soon as Kate finished the ladder he was up it like a spider monkey.”
Mike called excitedly, “You ought to come up here Sam. You can see over the bushes as if we were in a tree house. This is a great lookout!”
“Be careful with those loose planks Mike,” called Peter, “I haven’t finished nailing them yet.”
“Come on down Mike,” Sam called out, “Let’s get some tucker, and then we’ll go up there after lunch.”
“Cool," Mike replied, and soon they were all sitting on the wheat sacks on the floor with their legs crossed.
As soon as Sam and Kate put the sandwiches on the table, Blackie came through the doorway, nose to the ground, snorting and sniffing.
“How’s that! Blackie knows when to come—just when we get the sandwiches out,” laughed Mike.
Blackie looked up at the stack of sandwiches and immediately put his front paws on the table, as if to say, “don’t forget about me.”
“Hey! Get your feet off our table Blackie,” scolded Kate as she pushed Blackie’s paws off the table. “Don’t worry, you’ll get some too. Here, you can have this broken beef sandwich.”
Blackie lunged at the sandwich and almost bit Kate’s hand. The others burst out laughing as Kate quickly pulled her hand away.
“Well isn’t this great?” Peter said as they tucked into the sandwiches and drinks, “although I think we need a window in here somewhere or we will have to leave the trapdoor open all the time.”
“Yes, you’re right,” agreed Sam, “when we come back tomorrow we’ll cut a window into one of the walls. And once Peter’s finished nailing the roof planks we can head off. Maybe we’ll take the long way home on the bikes over toward old Thomas’ farm.”
The next day they again came to the sandhills with the things needed to finish the fort. As they walked up the slope leading to their fort, Mike suddenly stopped.
“What’s the matter, Mike?” Kate asked.
“Look!” Mike shouted as he pointed excitedly toward the sandy flat which lay below their fort.
“Look at what?” Peter asked.
“Look at the tracks. Your dad’s truck left that circle and now there is another wheel track over the top of it.”
They ran to the sand flat with Blackie sensing the excitement, scampering ahead of them barking wildly. The tracks were certainly fresh.
“You can see that they came after Dad’s tracks because they have driven over them,” Sam said. “And they are dual wheels.”
“Of course, they weren’t there yesterday so they had to come afterwards,” added Peter.
“Maybe your father came up here earlier this morning,” Kate suggested a little nervously, although she wasn’t sure why.
“No it wasn’t Dad,” replied Sam, “because we don’t have a vehicle that makes these sorts of tracks. Anyway, the only thing of ours that would drive through the sandhills would be one of our tractors and their wheel patterns are a lot different.”
“Why don’t we follow them and see where they come from?” suggested Mike, who was feeling quite proud that he had discovered these strange tracks first.
“That’s a good idea,” agreed Sam. “Come on, let’s go.”
They followed the tracks over the sandhill and came to the end of the sandhills and to the edge of the scrub. Once the tracks left the sand it was difficult to see them unless the ground was examined closely. “There they go, over toward the fence,” said Peter.
The four of them came to the fence and sure enough the tracks not only came to the fence but appeared to go through!
“Crikey. Something fishy’s going on here,” said Sam, “trucks or whatever don’t drive through fences—at least not without mangling them.”
“Unless they were ghost trucks,” giggled Kate.
“Ghost trucks don’t leave wheel marks,” replied Sam in an almost serious tone. “Ah. Here’s the answer. Whoever was driving cut the fence wires from the post and fixed them to a temporary post.”
They crowded around as Sam showed them what had been done. “Why would anyone do that?” Kate mused aloud.
Puzzled, Peter asked, “why not just cut the wires? Why did they go to all the trouble of putting the wire on another post?”
“It obvious, they’re planning to come back. Crikey. I’ll bet they’re the night rustlers and I’ll bet they’re preparing to steal some of our sheep!” Sam exclaimed excitedly.
“Listen, I’ve got an idea. What about we try to catch these rustlers?”
“What do you mean, Sam?” asked Kate.
“Well, no one has been able to catch them yet. Why don’t we see if we can sleep in the fort tonight and see if the rustlers return? We might be able to see who they are and get the police to arrest them,” explained Sam.
“That sounds really exciting, but shouldn’t we tell your father about it first?” Peter asked.
“Sounds scary to me,” added Mike, “and I’m not sure I want to sleep here in the sandhills, with all of this talk about ghosts and especially if there are rustlers around.”
Sam thought about what they should do. “If we tell Dad he will inform the police and there will be so many people investigating that the rustlers will probably see all of the commotion and call the whole thing off until everything cools off. Anyway, if we tell him, we would definitely not be allowed to sleep here!”
“I’ll tell you what,” said Sam, “we ask our parents if we can camp out in the fort, and if we hear the rustlers all we need to do is get their truck’s registration number and then we can tell Dad.”
“Hey, that’s a great idea,” Mike said excitedly, “everyone would think we were heroes for catching the rustlers!”
“Hang on,” interrupted Kate, “how do you know the rustlers will be back tonight? Why not next week?”
“Well,” replied Sam, “if they leave it too long the fence could be discovered, and it’s been very cloudy lately which will blot out the moon and make it darker for them so they won’t be seen.”
“I’m sure mum won’t let me camp out,” said Kate half thankfully and half dejectedly, “and that means that Mike won’t be allowed either.”
“I will so,” said Mike indignantly, “I’m old enough.”
Kate narrowed her eyes at Mike and said, “We’ll wait and see what mum says about that.”
Sam interjected, “Whatever happens you have to promise not to tell your mother or father about this. But listen, I think I have a plan.”
They huddled around Sam. Blackie, who had been sniffing around the field as if he was examining the area closely for any clues, raced over to join them. “Okay Blackie, in you come,” Peter chuckled as Blackie squeezed between him and Sam. “Perhaps you have some ideas too.”
Sam outlined his plan. “Peter and I will come up to the fort before dark and bring our sleeping bags and torches. If the sheep rustlers come, one of us will climb out of the trapdoor on to the top of the fort and crawl up the sandhill and signal to your house.”
“Ok, and I will wait at the window,” Mike added eagerly.
“What, all night?” Kate asked. “I think we should take turns or else you won’t be able to stay awake.”
“That’s a good idea,” Sam agreed, “and if you see a torch flashing on and off from the sandhills above our fort you will know that the sheep rustlers are here. Then you can tell your parents to phone the police so they can catch them before they leave.”
“Oh this sounds exciting Sam,” said Kate, But don’t you think it’s a bit dangerous?”
“Well it shouldn’t be. We’re not going to try and stop the rustlers ourselves,” Sam assured her, “and we’ll be able to hide in our secret fort.”
They all agreed that the plan should work and felt quite excited about it.
“Now,” said Sam, “let’s get back to the fort and finish those few things before we go home.”
It took quite a bit of pleading for both Sam and Peter to be allowed to camp at the fort for the night.
“Sam Rivers,” said his mother, “What if those sheep rustlers come around. It might be dangerous.” She didn’t notice Sam’s face redden a little because he knew the sheep rustlers were around.
“Crickey mum, we’ll be in the sandhills away from the road and away from the sheep,” Sam pleaded.
Sam’s father put his paper down and winked at him and said, “Perhaps Sam’s right. He’s camped out next to the house several times, and the sandhills are difficult for anyone to access. Besides, at his age I was camping out. The only things they’ll hear will be kangaroos and rabbits.”
“Alright, but take my mobile phone in case you need us in an emergency,”
“Oh thanks mum!” Sam exclaimed.
Soon the two boys were walking towards the sandhills with their back packs crammed with everything they needed.
“I did well, how about you?” asked Peter excitedly. “I’ve got sandwiches, a drink and some chocolates as well as my torch and sleeping bag.”
“Same here,” replied Sam, “it might be hours before the rustlers turn up—if they do—and we need something to help us spend the time.”
As they neared the gate separating the sheep from the grain fields they were surprised to see Blackie skulking along behind, tail wagging and tongue hanging out.
“Boy, he is cunning, He must have been following us all along and didn’t bark once to give himself away,” said Peter in amazement.
“Blackie go home!” Sam ordered. “Your barking will alert the rustlers, go home.”
Blackie knew what “go home” meant but chose to act ignorant. He was not going to be left out of any adventures, especially in the sandhills.
“It doesn’t look like he is going to go home,” Peter said, grinning, as Blackie continued slowly toward them, his tail lower and wagging almost apologetically.
“Well we can’t leave him here,” said Sam, “he wouldn’t leave the gate knowing we are in the sandhills, and his barking will scare away the rustlers—but it’s too late to take him back.
“You knew that, didn’t you Blackie?”
Blackie hung his ears as if he understood, but his tail was wagging a little faster and rising a little higher, as if to say, “don’t worry, I won’t cause any trouble.”
“Let him come, Sam,” said Peter, “We can feed him some sandwiches. That should keep him quiet.” Immediately Blackie’s tail began wagging enthusiastically.
“I reckon he understands everything we are saying,” Peter said laughing.
“Yes,” said Sam wryly, “everything except, go home.”
The sheep were bunching together for the night when Peter and Sam walked through the paddock. The late afternoon clouds brought the darkness on a little sooner but the air was still. The sandhills became silhouetted against the night sky and cast eerie shadows by the time they reached the fort.
“We can hardly see, Sam,” Peter said nervously as he looked behind, “do you think we should use our torches?”
“Better not,” Sam replied, “the rustlers might see them.” The very thought that the sheep rustlers might be around made Sam shiver nervously but he wasn’t going to let Peter know that. Suddenly, Blackie barked at a scurrying sound, and startled Peter and Sam
“What was that?” Peter asked, as he moved closer to Sam.
“It’s probably only a rabbit, silly. Blackie, stop barking or we will have to take you home,” Sam hissed.
Blackie stopped barking. The rabbit had bolted and Blackie did not want to be taken home.
They came to the entrance of the fort and Sam crawled under the overhanging bushes, waving one arm in front of him in case spiders had built webs across the bushes. Once inside they switched on a torch for light. They hung their back packs on the nails they had put there that afternoon and set their sleeping bags on the floor. Everything took on a cosy glow in the light of the torch and they began to feel less nervous.
“I suggested to Kate and Mike that when we arrived we would flash our torches three times toward the house and test our signal system,” said Peter, “and when they see them they will flash theirs to let us know.”
“Okay, that sounds like a good idea, but let’s hope the sheep rustlers aren’t out early,” said Sam, “otherwise they may be scared off.”
They climbed out of the trap door to get onto the roof of the fort. From there they were able to crawl up the sandhill against which the fort was built. Blackie watched them and began to whine because he couldn’t climb the ladder.
“Shush, Blackie,” chided Sam. “Lie down and be quiet! We’ll be back in a minute.” Blackie flopped down with his face on his paws as if to say, “Alright, I’ll wait here.”
At the top of the hill they could see the lights of the two farm houses in the distance. To the left was Sam’s place, but Peter’s was closer, across the gravel road which separated the properties. The sheep paddock below the sandhills was dark and quiet.
“It doesn’t look like there are any cars or trucks around Pete,” Sam whispered, “at least no one is using their headlights.”
“Okay, let’s try our torch signal,” said Peter as he aimed his torch toward his house. Both flashed their torches three times. Suddenly three small flashes were returned from the farm.
“They saw us, they saw us,” Peter exclaimed.
“Sshh, not so loud Pete,” Sam snapped, “someone might hear you!”
“Sorry Sam,” Peter replied sheepishly, “It’s just exciting!”
They both lay there for a while and looked up into the night. Myriads of stars glistened. “You can see why the indigenous people used to meet here Pete,” said Sam. “It’s really a special place.”
Suddenly a black flying creature swooped over them. “Ow, what was that,” Peter trembled.
“I think it might have been a bat!”
“A bat?! Let’s go back into the fort Sam.”
They slid back down the sandhill to the top of the fort and clambered down the trapdoor ladder. Blackie wagged his tail in welcome and licked them both.
Sam pushed him away, “That’s enough Blackie. Let’s have something to eat.”
Again they switched on one of their torches for light as they ate their sandwiches. It was good to have a table, to keep them out of the sand, and out of Blackie’s reach. But Blackie made sure they remembered to give him some to keep him quiet.
“What about we get into our sleeping bags after we have finished and lie down until we hear something,” suggested Sam, “and perhaps every hour or so one of us can climb onto the top of the fort and keep watch.”
“Good idea,” replied Peter, “But I’m not sure how I am going to handle bats.”
Peter switched the torch off and they both lay in their sleeping bags in the darkness. Outside, a soft breeze rustled amongst the branches of the prickle bushes and occasionally a rabbit scurried past. Time seemed to move slowly.
“I don’t believe we are going to see any sheep rustlers tonight,” said Sam, yawning.
“You’re probably right,” replied Peter, “Why don’t we take turns sleeping, like Kate and Mike, before we both doze off together?”
“Okay,” Sam answered, “you try to get some sleep first, and I will wake you in another hour. Unless of course the rustlers turn up before then.”
Sam could hardly stay awake for the hour. The gentle rustle of the leaves outside and Peter’s rhythmic breathing was almost hypnotic. Even Blackie had been unable to keep awake and made little snorting sounds.
At the end of the hour, Sam woke Peter to take over the watch. He whispered to him to wake up but Peter remained fast asleep. Finally Sam leaned over and shook him. “Peter, Peter, wake up,” Sam hissed, “It’s your turn to watch.”
“Uh, what’s up, what’s the matter?” Peter muttered, as Sam shook him.
“Nothing is the matter Pete,” Sam replied, “it’s your turn to listen.”
“Oh, right. I suppose you haven’t heard anything?” Pete asked drowsily.
“Nothing. I even climbed onto the roof but everything is quiet,” said Sam.
“Okay, leave it to me now. You get some sleep and I will wake you in about an hour unless I hear something before,” said Peter as he propped himself up against the wall.
Outside, the breeze picked up, rustling the leaves with hypnotic monotony. ‘If only the sheep thieves would come,’ thought Peter, ‘and we caught them. Our parents would be so proud and we might even get our names in the local paper. Everyone at school would think we were famous when they heard about our adventure.’ Peter yawned. The wind freshened and moaned through the bushes.
“Yikes, I can’t keep my eyes open”.
Several times he forced them open, but eventually he could resist no longer.
Sam was the first to sit bolt upright. Blackie was growling in a low rumbling tone.
“What’s the matter Blackie?” Sam whispered, “Do you hear something?” he asked as he prodded Peter awake. Suddenly Peter sat up and realised that he had fallen asleep.
“Oh no!” he whispered, “I fell asleep, I’m sorry Sam.”
“Shh Peter—Blackie can hear something.”
The boys strained their ears to listen. At first they heard nothing except the wind through the bushes, but the faint rumbling of an engine gradually became louder from the direction of the fence which they had examined the day before.
“It has to be the sheep rustlers,” Peter whispered excitedly.
“Quick,” Sam hissed to Peter, “get up to the top of the fort—and thanks for the warning Blackie—but don’t bark.”
Blackie whined a little, disappointed, but obediently lay down as the boys climbed the ladder. Through the darkness they could make out the shape of a four-wheel-drive truck coming over the sandhills, guided by the light of a hand-held torch.
“Look. No wonder they only take a few sheep at a time. That truck only has a small metal canopy on the back,” Sam whispered.
Just then the truck slowed down, almost in front of the fort. The boys lowered their heads, afraid they had been discovered. They could hear voices over the sound of the diesel engine.
“Everything looks okay Jack. The cocky probably thought his sheep were safe here at the back of the sandhills.”
“Okay Jessie, let’s move closer—and try not to spook the sheep."
The truck rolled gently toward the bottom of the sandhill near the mob of sheep.
Almost unable to contain his excitement, Sam turned to Peter. “Pete, you crawl up on the sandhill and signal Kate and Mike,” Sam said, “I’m going to follow the truck down and see if I can see his number plate.”
“Isn’t that dangerous Sam? You said we’d just signal the house and wait for the police,” Pete whispered. “What if they catch you?”
“Crikey, don’t worry, I’ll be careful. This way if they escape before the police come we have their number,” Sam replied. “Hurry, get to the top of the hill or else they’ll soon be gone.”
Peter agreed reluctantly, and trembling crawled up the sandhill to signal the farm whilst Sam slid back down the ladder to follow the truck.
Blackie gave an appreciative whine as Sam appeared in the fort and patted him. “Now don’t make any noise Blackie,” Sam whispered, “and I will be back in a while.” Disappointed, Blackie huffed and lay back down.
Sam carefully opened the door and crawled under the bushes into the darkness. He saw the truck near the edge of the sandhill and near the mob of sheep. He came as close as he dared and hid behind bushes.
There were three men, not two as he had supposed, and they had opened the back of the truck and were preparing to load some sheep.
“Okay Ted, you circle around behind the mob and flick the torch on and off as you walk toward us.”
“Sure thing Jack, you’re the boss.” Ted silently slipped around to the opposite side of the sheep. He gave a low whistle to signal to the others that he was about to start. He began moving toward the sheep, occasionally flashing his torch and shepherding the frightened sheep with his outstretched arms.
As small groups of sheep bolted toward the truck the other men pounced on them and roughly hauled the hapless sheep into the truck. Sam estimated that they soon had about fourteen or fifteen when he heard the first man, Jack, growl, “That’s enough. We’ve got all we can handle. Come on let’s go.”
The men closed the back panels and started the engine.
“Crikey, they’re going to be off before I get their number!” He quickly scampered on all fours toward the truck, keeping low to avoid being seen. To Sam’s dismay none of the numbers were legible. Most of the numbers had been worn away.
“Probably deliberate”, he thought.
An idea came to him. Why not climb on board the truck, follow the men to their destination, and climb off when they stop?
He quickly clambered up the back of the truck, grabbing the bars of the back gates. Anyway, Sam thought, by now Peter would have alerted Kate and Mike and the police would probably be on their way.
Meanwhile Peter was growing anxious. “Why don’t they answer? Come on, come on,” he hissed. He flashed the torch several times but received no response. The farm was in complete darkness. “Ah, gee, what’s Sam going to say?” He would probably be angry because it was obvious that Kate and Mike had both fallen asleep, as he had done earlier.
He slid down to the top of the fort and saw the ghostly figure of the truck drive slowly past toward the fence. “At least Sam would have gotten their number,” he mumbled.
Suddenly he stopped. From the back of the truck he saw three quick flashes of torchlight obviously aimed directly toward the fort. Horrified, Peter wondered what had happened. Had the rustlers discovered Sam and taken him prisoner?
“Oh no!” His heart began to beat faster and he felt panicky. He clambered into the fort and almost fell on top of Blackie.
“Blackie, they’ve got Sam. Quick we have to do something!” Peter hissed.
Blackie looked up and yawned as if to say, “have you finished playing your game yet?” Peter’s voice became more urgent, and Blackie sensed that something really was wrong and growled, as he did when he first heard the truck.
“Come on Blackie, we’ll have to run to the farm and get help for Sam before something happens to him.”
Sam felt the truck slow down as they approached the makeshift gate the robbers had created. He quickly climbed into the truck and huddled among the sheep. Ted jumped from the truck and hooked the gate back in place. “Can’t see why you bother to hook the fence back up, Jack, when we’ve done the job.”
Jack gave a low snigger. “Yeah well, we always shuts gates—and we can’t have sheep straying,” he laughed, “and besides it might take them longer to find out if any sheep are missing.”
Ted climbed back into the cabin and the truck lurched into the darkness toward the road without using headlights. Sam sensed when they reached the road and turned toward the right, the opposite direction to his farm. They travelled less than fifteen minutes when the truck suddenly veered sideways, leaving the road and parked behind dense scrub. “What they doing?” Sam wondered. Suddenly a flash of headlights passed by on the road. After the car passed, the men waited a few minutes before returning to the road and continuing.
Cautiously, Sam lifted his head and looked through the side railings and saw that the men were still driving by torchlight. Another hour passed before Sam felt the truck lurch off the road again, this time along a rough scrub track. The truck swayed from side to side as its wheels sank into sandy potholes, causing the sheep to lose balance and fall onto Sam, or he on to them. “If nothing else,” Sam thought, “I’m going to come out this with heaps of bruises.”
Soon the truck approached buildings which Sam surmised to be the sheep rustler’s base. “I’d better get out before I get caught.” He was about to leap the railing when a powerful spotlight from the buildings enveloped the truck causing it to slow even more.
Suddenly another man approached out of the light and directed them to a large shed.
“Jack,” he barked, “put that lot in the lower shed. There’s more feed down there, and the top shed’s already full.”
“Okay Baz,” Jack replied as he turned the truck toward the lower shed.
Sam’s heart was pounding. Any moment now he would climb out or it would be too late. Again Sam reached up to the railings when Baz jumped on to the side of the truck. “I’ll ride down with you and give you a hand,” he said. Sam could see his huge figure silhouetted against the railings. “Crikey, how am I going to get out of this?”
The ringing of a mobile telephone suddenly interrupted his thoughts
The truck jerked to a stop in front of the doors of a huge old tin shed. “Hang on Jack,” Baz called, “I’ll open those doors for yer after I answer this call.”
It was now or never thought Sam! He quickly scaled the rear railings and jumped to the ground on to all fours. The moon was still behind the clouds and chances looked good. The truck began to move forward into the shed so Sam followed in its shadows.
Suddenly powerful hands grabbed Sam by the shoulder. “Ere, ere—what have we got ere?” Baz growled. “Doesn’t look much like a sheep to me.”
“Let go of me, you’re hurting me.” Try as he might to squirm out of Baz’s grip, the firmer he was held.
The commotion caused Jack and the others to come to the back of the truck to see what was going on.
“Where’d you come from, you little blighter?” Jack cussed.
“Looks like he wuz in the back of the truck to me,” said Baz, “appears to have come from the last place you made a pick up.” Sam thought it was if he knew all along, as if someone had told him.
“Well boy, did you?” Jack demanded as he shook Sam by his windcheater. By this time Sam’s heart felt like it was in his throat and he could hardly answer. He didn’t know what to say except to nod his head in agreement.
Ted stopped Jack from shaking Sam. “Knock it off Jack, he’s only a kid. I don’t like this. We’re not into kidnapping!”
“Yeah, you’re right Ted. It’s just that the little brat complicates our plans.”
“Lock him up with the old couple in the shearer’s quarters,” said Baz, “and we’ll work out what to do later. But we’ll have to move quickly because someone’s bound to miss ‘im and we’ll have the police searching everywhere.”
“You take ‘im Jack,” Baz grumbled, “and we’ll get these sheep unloaded. We’ll see you up there shortly.”
With that Sam was half-dragged and half-pushed.
“You little wretch. Mister smarty pants, eh?” They reached the shearer’s quarters and Jack unlocked the padlock on the door and shoved him into a dark room and slammed the door behind. As he lay on the floor dazed, a frightened voice quivered, “Who are you?”
An old man came to him and shone a small torch into Sam’s face. “What are you here for? Are you one of them? Answer me boy!” he demanded.
Before Sam had a chance to answer an old woman joined them. “Ben, he’s only a boy and if he was one of them he wouldn’t be locked in here with us. See if he’s hurt.”
Even before Peter left the fort to raise the alarm he was panting. The shock at seeing Sam’s signal from the back of the truck had knocked all of the wind out of him. He stumbled down the sandhill. “Ow,” he winced, as caught his leg in a prickle bush. Blackie frolicked alongside, wondering about all of the excitement in the middle of the night. Peter decided to head to his own parent’s farm which was closer to the sandhills rather than face Sam’s parents. “How can I tell them that Sam has been kidnapped?!”
He climbed through the wire fence bordering Sam’s farm and stumbled onto the gravel road which divided the properties. Just then a utility came around the corner and caught Peter and Blackie in the full glare of its headlights. It skidded and stopped in a cloud of dust. Peter recognised the driver as old Thomas, a neighbour of both Sam and Peter’s.
“What the…?” old Thomas gasped. “What are you doing gallivanting out here at this time of night young Peter?” he enquired incredulously.
“They’ve got Sam, they’ve got Sam,” Peter blurted, “quickly we’ve got to tell mum and dad.”
“Now hang on son, slow down. Who’s got Sam?” asked old Thomas.
“Well Sam and I hid in the sandhills to catch the sheep rustlers—I think they kidnapped him—they took him away in their truck—I saw his torch signal.”
“Hmm, well better get in the car quick,” said old Thomas, “and we’ll alert your parents and the police.”
Peter climbed in alongside of old Thomas who first put Blackie in the back of the utility. Peter was impressed with the way old Thomas spun his wheels on the gravel road as he sped off in the direction of Peter’s farm.
Peter’s parents could hardly have remained asleep when old Thomas entered their drive. He repeatedly blew the car horn and Blackie barked excitedly, telling no one in particular how much he enjoyed the exhilarating ride. The farm dogs also reacted when they heard the noise.
Bleary eyed, Peter’s parents came to the door which Peter had begun furiously to knock “Mum, dad. Hurry, Hurry!”
“Peter! Old Thomas! What’s going on? What are you doing here?”
Again Peter blurted, “They’ve got Sam dad, they’ve got Sam. Quick! Phone the police!”
“Hang on Peter. Who has Sam?” Peter’s father asked. “Come inside and explain everything.” As they came inside old Thomas briefly recounted what he had extracted from Peter. “And I’ve just come down the north road. I don’t reckon they went that way or else I would have passed them, and I didn’t pass anyone.”
No sooner had he finished the story than Kate and Mike burst into the room. “Peter, what are you doing here?” Kate squealed.
“Yeah. You’re supposed to be at the fort signalling us,” Mike added.
“Oh I get it,” said Peter’s father, “all of you had something planned for tonight, did you?”
Peter looked a little sheepish as he explained their plan. “And you two,” he growled at Kate and Mike, “must have fallen asleep because you obviously didn’t see my signal.”
Both Kate and Mike hung their heads contritely.
“We tried to keep awake. We both kept falling asleep,” Kate explained, “and must have missed your signal.”
“Well, enough of that. First we’d better alert the police,” said Peter’s father as he picked up the telephone. “Then we’d better let Sam’s mother and father know what’s happened.”
Peter’s father rang the police and they listened as he explained what must have sounded extraordinary. “Old Thomas reckons they couldn’t have gone north as he had just come down that road and didn’t pass anyone.”
After a few minutes he put the phone down. “The police are going to start searching the area south of the farm,” he said, “and a description of the truck is being broadcast in case it has moved out of the area. Now, we had better drive over and break the news to Sam’s parents.”
Peter’s mother turned to the three youngsters. “I think you three can stay here.”
“But mum,” Peter protested, “we’ll miss all of the excitement.”
“I think you’ve caused enough excitement for one night,” interrupted Peter’s father. “You stay here and look after the other two. I’ll take mother over to young Sam’s place and she can keep Sam’s mother company while his father and I join the search.”
Reluctantly, Peter agreed. “Oh, alright dad.”
Old Thomas decided it was time for him to move too. “I’ll head back to me farm and have a look around m’self,” he said as he stood up to leave.
After everyone had left, Peter berated Kate and Mike for not keeping awake. “If you two hadn’t fallen asleep none of this would have happened, and we could have caught the rustlers before they got away.”
Kate and Mike stood, heads bowed, but before they answered, a scratching noise at the door caught their attention. Peter opened the door and Blackie bounded in as if to say, “you hadn’t forgotten me had you?”
Peter looked at Blackie and thought about Sam. “You know, I heard dad say that everyone is going to search down south for Sam and the rustlers but what if old Thomas is wrong and they went north? They may not have even driven on the road.”
Kate looked up thoughtfully. “You’re right. Wouldn’t the tracks tell us which direction the truck took?” she asked.
“You mean at the fence they broke?” exclaimed Mike.
“Yes,” Kate answered, “they would have to come out onto the road or somewhere but the tracks would tell us which way they went.”
Peter jumped up, “let’s go and check them now!” he said excitedly.
“You mean now. In the night-time?” asked Mike, concern showing on his face. “How?”
“I’ll get dad’s small tractor out — the one with the small trailer on the back. We can do it before mum and dad get back. Now go and get dressed and remember to put on a windcheater.”
Soon the three of them, as well as Blackie, were chugging along the road towards the sandhills. Peter often helped his father by driving the tractor so he was quite at home at its steering wheel. The others were in the trailer. Before long they passed the dark sandhills on their right and came towards the area whe
Fourteen-year-old Sam Rivers lives on a farm in rural South Australia and when he, his dog Blackie, and three friends from a neighbouring farm set out to explore the eerie sandhills at the back of the farm, they discover the perfect place to build a fort.
The night before the four friends embark to begin creating their fort with a secret lookout, twenty more sheep disappear from a property down the road.
Sheep rustling is rampant and when Sam and his friends discover strange tyre tracks by their fort, they realize the rustlers are preparing to raid Sam’s farm. The four scheme to catch the gang responsible by lying in wait in the fort during the night and then reporting the rustlers to the police.
But even the best-laid plans have faults. Sam and his friends put their lives in danger while trying to catch the rustlers, but are even more dismayed to discover they have been betrayed by a trusted friend. Locked in shearer’s quarters with an old couple, Sam must find a way out, but in the end, it is up to man’s best friend to try and save them all”.