Shane Dalton and Mitch Darcy sat on the outcrop of rock and stared into the deep pool of Boodicuttup Creek. Tree branches cast shadows over the water’s surface, their growth so dense, the sunlight only shone on the pool during the middle of the day.
“There’s the cormorant,” Mitch said.
Shane watched the cormorant emerge from an overhang of low bush forming a hidey-hole at the edge of the water.
The bird glided across the pool to the road crossing a few metres away and clambered across the rocks. It sat there, basking in the afternoon sunshine.
Shane peered at the cormorant through the binoculars he had sneaked from the top of his mother’s kitchen cupboard.
“What's the cormorant doing?” Mitch pushed his curly hair back from his forehead.
“Nothing. It's just sitting there.” Shane put the binoculars on his knee.
“Let me have a look.” Mitch held out his hand.
Shane passed the binoculars to him.
Mitch stared through them. “Gee! It looks like one of those vultures you see on T.V.”
“That’s because it's black. It doesn't have a hooked beak like a vulture.”
“There's someone coming down the hill on a bike.” Mitch followed the rider with the binoculars. The rider dipped down the rise and vanished out of sight before coming into view again. “It's Leanna Browning.”
“What’s she doing here?” Shane said.
Mitch followed Leanna's progress. “She's stopped. She's leant her bike against a tree. She's creeping towards the cormorant.” He stood to get a better view.
His sudden movement startled the bird. It dived into the pool and paddled downstream to vanish among a patch of thick bush growing along the bank.
Leanna rode across the creek and stopped at the side of the road below Shane and Mitch. She looked neat, dressed in jeans and a blue checked blouse. Her fair hair was tied back in a ponytail by a matching ribbon.
Shane realized how untidy he was in his grubby tee shirt and shorts.
Mitch remembered the rip in the back of his shorts he had caught on a twig and sat down hurriedly on a slab of rock.
“You've frightened the cormorant.” Leanna’s voice sounded accusing.
Mitch looked sheepish. “It'll be back.”
“How long have you known about the cormorant living here?” Leanna asked.
“We saw it ten days ago,” Shane said.
“Dad and I saw it two weeks ago.”
Shane and Mitch glanced at each other. They had thought of the cormorant as belonging to them and were shocked to discover Leanna had known about it before they did.
“Have you seen it fly?” Leanna asked.
“No,” Shane and Mitch said together.
“We haven't either. Dad thinks it’s hurt. That’s why it’s living here by itself. It's a Great Cormorant. I read about it in the bird book that I borrowed from the school library. Its other names are Black Cormorant and Black Shag.”
Shane and Mitch stared in dislike at Leanna. Neither of them had thought to look in the library at school to discover more about cormorants.
“Dad and I are going to search for the cormorant's nesting place,” Leanna said.
Shane and Mitch knew where there was an old cormorant-nesting colony, but they weren't going to tell Leanna. Her father was the police sergeant. Sergeant Browning had blasted them last week when they rode two abreast down the main street without their hands on the handlebars of their bikes.
In the distance came a cloud of moving dust and with it the rumbling of a truck.
“You'd better get off the road if you don't want to get flattened,” Shane told Leanna.
Leanna pushed her bike onto the road verge. The truck flew past, enveloping her in dust.
Shane and Mitch waited in anticipation for the dust to settle. When it had, they were disappointed that Leanna wasn't as dusty looking as they had hoped.
“It's Jem Gasper's truck and bulldozer,” Mitch said when the truck stopped halfway up the hill. “He's turned into Charlie Buckle's paddock.”
Jem Gasper drove across the small paddock and parked by the creek. He climbed out of the truck and started the bulldozer, then drove it off the low loader.
“What's he doing with his bulldozer in old Charlie Buckle's paddock?” Shane said.
Mitch pulled a face at Shane. “Perhaps old Charlie will use it to run over us the next time he catches us stealing his mushrooms.”
Shane grinned. “I thought he was going to string us up by the heels when he caught us in his paddock last year.”
“He’ll do that too, but he’ll flatten us first. We'll look like pieces of cardboard. He'll string us up under the mungji over there.” Mitch pointed across the road to a Christmas tree. “We'll blow in the wind. Backwards, forwards, backwards, forwards.” He rocked in motion. “We'll terrify everyone who travels the road of a night.” He let out a ghostly howl.
“Look. There's a racehorse goanna behind you.” Leanna pointed to the rock above the two boys.
Shane and Mitch turned to see a monitor lizard, nearly a metre long, perched on the rock behind them. Mottled grey with flecks of yellow, it looked carved from stone.
“Gee! It's a big one,” Mitch said.
“I'd hate that to run up me in mistake for a tree,” Shane said.
“So would I,” Mitch agreed.
The goanna stared at them, then with a swish of its tail, it turned and vanished behind the rock.
Leanna pushed her bike onto the road. “I'm off home. It’s getting late.”
Mitch and Shane picked up their bikes and rode behind her in single file on the gravel road.
“I'm going call in on Uncle Rolly,” Mitch said to Shane as they neared the town. “Do you want to come?”
“We’ll see you at school tomorrow,” Mitch and Shane called to Leanna as they reached the turn off to Mitch's Great Uncle Rolly's place.
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