“Wake up girls, I need your help. Get your clothes on.” It was Ellen’s father, dressed in his heavy work boots and dirty jeans.
I was still half asleep as we stumbled outside, following a torch beam across the dark paddock. The night air was chilly and a light frost sparkled in the torchlight. We seemed to be wandering aimlessly and I thought Mr Lees was going to take us to the haunted house.
I was shivering from the cold when suddenly an old ewe appeared in the circle of light. She was having trouble and Mr Lees bent down to assist her, gently drawing out a little lamb and depositing him on the grass. As he made contact with the cold ground his limbs twitched and I could see his ribs heaving.
The ewe seemed to be just as thrilled as I was as she pushed her nose at the new arrival. We did this a number of times through the night until eventually I found myself back in my warm bed, thinking about all those little lambs and how gentle Mr Lees had been with them.
Warm sunshine greeted us the next morning as Ellen and I raced outside to count the number of new lambs that were frolicking around the paddock. We rescued about half a dozen little lambs that had been abandoned by their mothers during the night and carried them one by one up to the house.
Mrs Lees set up a little nursery for the lambs on the back verandah that she made from an old child’s playpen with some blankets on the floor for warmth. Ellen and I followed her into the laundry where she showed us how to put a scoop of powdered milk into a bucket of warm water and mix it around until there were no more lumpy bits.
I filled a baby feeding bottle with the powdered milk mixture and Mrs Lees showed me how to teach the little lambs to suck the teats. I sat on the verandah with my legs crossed and held a soft little lamb in my arms as it squirmed and wriggled on my lap. It took me a few goes to get my lamb drinking because every time I poked the teat in its mouth it would push the teat away with its little tongue and then start wriggling a bit more until I nearly dropped it. Eventually my lamb got the idea and I clung tightly to its warm body as it sucked noisily at the teat.
After all the lambs had been fed, we put them back in their pen and they snuggled together in the corner and fell asleep. Every now and then I would look in the pen and smile at the lamb that I had fed. I had decided that I would call him ‘Woolly’ and sometimes he would lift his head when he saw me looking and make the tiniest little baa because he knew that I was the one that cared for him.
Ellen and I spent the whole morning playing on the verandah and watching the little lambs in their pen. They were nothing like the lambs I had seen in my picture books because they looked so skinny and wrinkly, but they were really lively and noisy. Their wool was so much softer than anything I could ever have imagined and I wished that I could keep one as a pet. Ellen said we weren’t allowed to keep them as pets, though, and as soon as they were big enough they would have to be put back out in the paddock with all the other lambs.
Mrs Lees brought lunch out to the verandah for us, but she told us that we should leave the lambs in peace for a while and go and play in the yard instead. Ellen said it was too boring to play in the yard, so we wandered around the shearing shed looking for something to do.
There were some old doors leaning against the wall in a corner of the shed, and Ellen suddenly had an idea that we could use one to make a raft. It was really heavy and it took ages to drag it down to the dam, but we eventually made it, even though I thought my arms were going to get pulled out of their sockets.
Ellen found an old coke bottle in the dirt and smashed it against the side of the raft to christen it. She said that it was what people did when they launched new ships. We pushed the raft into the water and quickly climbed on board. It leaned precariously to one side as we floated out into the middle of the dam, and every time one of us moved the raft would bob up and down in the water until we were both wet and giggling.
I felt like the whole weekend had been a dream from a story book. “We are just like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn,” I said with a smile.
“Who are they?” asked Ellen. She was lying on her back with her arms behind her head and her feet were dangling in the water.
“Oh, they’re from a book that Grandma gave me for Christmas last year.” I started to tell her about all the things that Tom Sawyer had gotten up to, how he was always being naughty and getting into mischief. Ellen said she knew exactly what that was like.
After a while I started to get cold from being wet, so Ellen suggested we hop off the raft and start catching yabbies. We ran up to the house and Ellen took some meat out of the fridge, before running back down to the dam. She found a piece of twine near the fence and tied the lump of raw meat to one end, before throwing the line out into the water with the other end tied to a stick on the bank. We then waited in the warm sunshine while I continued to tell her about how Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry went to live on an island and pretended they were pirates.
Eventually the line started to move slowly and with a very delicate touch Ellen drew the twine in until the goggling eyes of a yabby began to appear. She leant forward and scooped the yabby out of the water with her hand and I screamed loudly as it suddenly started waving its claws around and crawled backwards towards the dam. Ellen bravely picked it up behind the head and dropped it in a bucket. When I looked in the bucket I could see the yabby’s eyes looking back at me and it waved its claws around wildly. Ellen asked if I wanted to have a go, but I was happy just watching her catching them.
As she threw the raw meat back into the dam, I moved a little further back up the bank. I decided that I didn’t want to live on an island and be a pirate after all, but I wasn’t game to tell Ellen that.