The Wheelbarrow

By Max Swan © 2014

*A fictionalised account of a true story.

A group of seven well dressed men warmed themselves by the fire in the waiting room of the Korumburra Railway Station. Outside as the train engine hissed steam and grey smoke rose from its chimney, other passengers huddled close as the biting winter wind blew over the platform. Eventually a deep male voice was heard to yell, “All aboard! The train departs in ten minutes to Melbourne.”

The men in the waiting room all shook one man’s hand and said goodbye leaving him standing there with a stately looking older man leaning on his cane. Albert Downey was the mine manager for the Sunbeam Colliery that operated several black coal mines in the area. The older man was the head of the trustee board that owned the mines. Mr James Merchant was a respected man in high society Melbourne and he held himself so. He was important.

“You handled those raffish miners rather well today, Albert. Seeing you in action reminded me of your father,” Merchant said followed by a stiff smile.

Albert shifted uncomfortably saying, “The miners won this round so I’m not sure why you think I did so well. As for my father… Well you know how I feel about that, Sir.”

“George was one of the best negotiators I’ve ever seen, and you’re quite like him in that regard. Do you still harbour anger at him for losing his fortune?” Merchant looked at him with a raised eyebrow.

“Fortunes come and go, sir, as you well know,” Albert said looking at the clock on the wall. He was thankful that time would not allow this conversation to continue. “You better get on board or else you’ll have to spend the night in this backwater.”

As Albert grabbed the door handle and began to pull the heavy door open Merchant grabbed his arm and leaned in close causing him to pause. “Albert, your father’s folly was not that he lost his fortune. It was that he was too stubborn to change his ways when he needed to. That’s what kept him a pauper to this very day. You’d do well to learn from that.”

The station master again yelled for passengers to board and so Albert forced a smile and said, “Sir, your train is leaving.”

“Oh yes, indeed,” Merchant sputtered and as they walked outside the wind bit through their clothes like a hungry dog, making them both wrap their coats about them in a shiver. Albert helped Merchant onto one the red carriages and then Merchant turned back to him and said from inside the train, “Don’t be afraid to go hard on the miners. This is war right now and we can’t let Trade Hall beat us. God knows they’ll turn this country into a communist haven if they have their way.”

“It would be easier if they didn’t go out on strike over every minor issue. ” Albert said with a shiver trying to hold his hat down in the breeze.

“Your job is to get as much profit from these mines as you can, before black coal becomes obsolete, and trust me it will. The writing is on the wall even as we speak,” Merchant said, then he noticed the guardsman was standing a ways behind Albert looking at him with an annoyed demeanour. “Goodbye Albert, don’t forget to give my regards to Isabella, and tell her next time I’ll stay over and enjoy her delicious cooking.”

Albert smiled at the man and then said, “Goodbye sir, and likewise please give our regards to Mrs Merchant.” With that Merchant closed the door, and the train began its slow huff and puff as it pulled away from the station. Albert gave a stiff wave to the rest of the trustees, some of whom returned it, and so they left Korumburra on their way to Melbourne. Turning he walked out of the station and climbed into his green 1930 Rover and headed towards home.

The drive home was short but the sight of the poorly built weatherboard houses that littered the town only just reinforced Albert’s desire to be rid of the place. The trustees were lucky, he thought, they could visit this squalid town and then head back to the comfort and sophistication of the city. Albert and Isabella lived in a large house near the centre of the town, a place the local residents referred to as ‘The Mansion’. By the standard of Korumburra it was a mansion, but not by any other standards.

The rain had begun now and looked like it was going to settle in. Something else to add to Korumburra’s long list of negative aspects. It rained often, and it often rained hard. Running into his home he quickly found the fireplace to warm himself and was stamping his feet when his wife entered holding a glass with whiskey in it. Isabella was of Italian descent, her family ran a shoe factory in Melbourne. Her long dark hair seemed to offset her golden eyes that always took Albert’s breath away.

“Evening Albert, did the Trustees get off alright?” she said holding the glass out to him which he took.

“Yes, lucky sods. Mr Merchant sends his regards,” he replied and then drank the whiskey in one gulp.

“Oh heavens you drink like a common miner sometimes,” she said and then laughed when he screwed up his face at being called so.

“Miners have a tendency to drive one to drink, besides on what we pay them I’d barely think they could afford whiskey.”

“Well go wash up and I’ll pour you another. Dinner is ready to be served,” she took his glass and hurried out of the room.

Albert walked into his bedroom and found a bowl with hot water sitting on the bureau accompanied with some soap and a towel. He smiled to himself at the thoughtfulness of his wife. Taking his jacket off and draping it over the bed he rolled up his sleeves and began to wash the grime of the day off himself. He looked in the mirror as water dripped off his face, his moustache and trimmed beard. Merchant was happy with his handling of the union, but he wasn’t. They had pulled out some government paper on mine safety and that left him with nowhere to go.

Now they’d have to dig another air vent down to the mine which will waste money and time. The face of the shop-steward Bill Wyhoon burned in his mind. Wyhoon had smirked at him when they knew they had no other option but concede to the union’s demands. Albert didn’t like it when that happened, having grown up with people doing the same thing to him because of his father. He thought about how the miners will return to work tomorrow full of insolence due to their victory. Rubbing it in, no doubt, that they had out manoeuvred him. God I hate this place, he thought bitterly.

The next morning he was greeted by his mine foreman Jock Stewart at the coal creek mine where this strike had been centred. Approximately eighty men worked this mine that was three miles from the township of Korumburra. Count on that another twenty men who worked the top of the mine it was a pretty busy mine, even though it was a small one. When the miners go out on strike, the top workers don’t because they’re not in the miners union. The top of the mine workers stays on to load the backlog of black coal into the train carriages, deliver coal to local business and homes, and do maintenance work around the mine.

Albert did a quick inspection to see everything was in readiness for the miners return and then he and Jock waited as slowly men began arriving puffing on clay pipes and chatting quietly to each other in the gloomy morning. The men would go to an outbuilding and dump their lunch pales and coats, put on their mine overalls and helmets, and make sure their carbide lights were working and had enough fuel. Then they trudged out of the hut and began to walk towards the main entrance. Top workers stood by holding the pit ponies who were attached to carts and the miners dumped tools on them and pulled them down into the mine entrance.

The last lot of men to enter included Bill Wyhoon, the shop-steward and he stopped and spoke to Albert with a familiarity that made him shudder inside. “Mornin’ Boss, hope that the air hole is being drilled today like you promised.”

“The rig from the Outrim mine is being brought across today so we’ll keep our word, Wyhoon,” Albert said a bit waspishly.

“Well Trade hall says if it isn’t started today then we’re to walk off again. Some of us like to breath, Boss. It’s an occupational hazard,” Wyhoon said with a crooked grin. Albert was not in the mood for miners humour so he drew his coat around him and was about to walk off to the office when he heard a Jock shout at another man.

“Wha’ the bloody hell d’ya think yoo doing here, Garrard?” he shouted in his strong Scottish accent.

“The strikes over, Boss. So I’m back,” the man answered evenly.

“Boot yoor not a bloody miner, ya idiot,” Jock shouted back. Albert walked over to the two men and looked this ‘Garrard’ up and down. He was a young man, early twenties probably, thin but he looked strong. He had a thick welt of black hair on his head that seemed to have a life of its own.

“What’s going on here?” Albert demanded of Jock.

“Well Mr Downey, ” Jock began, “…this ere is Arthur Garrard who’s a top worker here. Hasn’t been to work since the miners went out on strike. Now he’s shood up again saying he was oot on strike too. In sympathy for the miners, he says,” Jock said.

Albert looked at the man somewhat taken aback. “Is this true, Garrard?”

“Yes Boss, I was supporting the miners,” Garrard replied standing almost to attention.

“Top workers aren’t part of the union. I’m sorry but if you haven’t been here for three weeks to do your job then as far as I’m concerned you’re fired. Now get out of here and stop bothering us,” Albert said dismissively and began to walk off. The cheek of these people, he thought.

Bill Wyhoon had been standing back watching it all unfold too. He knew Arthur Garrard by his nickname ‘Stag’ and considered him a mate. Stag had spent the last three weeks out shooting rabbits and Kangaroos to give the miners’ families meat to eat. Being on strike meant no income coming in, and the union could only give them a little to help out. Nobody had asked Stag to go hunting for them, he just began showing up at the homes of those most in need offering them his bounty. Now it seems he was striking in support of them as well.

Bill felt a new-found respect for his mate so he called out to Albert. “If you fire him then we’re all on strike.”

Albert stopped dead in his tracks and spun around so fiercely his hat fell off. “You’ll what?”

“If you fire Stag, we’re out,” Bill said.

“Stag?” Albert said not sure who that was then noticed Jock pointing at the young man who had a big grin on his face. “You’ll strike for him? A top worker?” Albert asked feeling his stomach churn.

“He went on strike for us, so we’ll do it for him,” Bill said, his body stiff and his eyes serious.

“What was his job here, Jock,” Albert asked.

“He worked on loading the rail trucks, mostly,” Jock answered. Albert walked back to Jocks side thinking. He noticed by the gate was a large pile of coal that was used to supply local homes and businesses. A truck was parked beside it that took the coal into town. He got an idea that would not only call Wyhoon’s bluff, but put the choice back on Garrard.

“OK Garrard, I’ll let you return to work,” he said in an almost affable manner.

“Oh thanks, Boss,” Stag proclaimed and began to walk off but Albert called him back.

“Hey where are you going?” Albert called after him.

“To the loaders…” Stag began.

“No, you have a new job now. I’m putting you on transport to deliver coal into town.”

Jock interrupted and said, “Mr Dooney, Garrard doont have a license to drive a truck, besides that’s ol’ Gabe Stringers job and he doont need any help.”

“Garrard doesn’t need a license,” Albert said to Jock. Then he turned to Stag saying, “Garrard your new job is to deliver all the coal used in homes for heating in Korumburra. You can do that using that wheelbarrow there,” he pointed to a heavy wooden wheelbarrow near the pile of coal that had a metal wheel, “… and on return you’re to bring back fodder for the pit ponies. Understood?”

Bill shouted out in disbelief. “That’s bloody unfair. No man could do that and last a day. The town is bloody two miles away for a start.”

Albert ignored the shop steward. Instead addressing Stag alone. “That’s my terms. If you refuse, then of course I’ll take that as your resignation, and the union cannot legally strike about that. So what’s it to be, Garrard?”

Stag looked at Bill who knew that if Stag refused the job then he is in effect quitting. Nothing the union could do about that. “Sorry Stag, he’s right. The decision is yours,” he said with a sad shake of his head.

“It’s OK Bill, I understand,” Stag said and then he turned and began to walk off.

They all watched him expecting to see him walk out the gate and back to town, but Stag didn’t seem to have the same idea. He stopped by the truck and spoke to ol’ Gabe Stringer who gave him a piece of paper. Stag stuffed it into his pocket, and walked off leaving the delivery man scratching his head. Then Stag stopped at the pile of black coal behind the truck and began filling the wheelbarrow with black coal. The men still outside the mine all watched him fill it until a small mound came over the top. Then Stag dug the shovel into the coal in the wheelbarrow, picked it up at the handles. and began to push the wheelbarrow towards the gate. Once them men realised what he was doing, they all cheered. All except Albert and Jock.

Albert was taken aback, he didn’t expect Garrard to take him up on his offer. However, there was nothing he could do to stop the circus now. Jock turned to him and said in a low voice, “Don’t worry, he’ll soon get jack of it and quit. Mark my words.”

“Send the truck up to collect the wheelbarrow in about half an hour,” Albert said and walked off to the office thinking now of a comforting cup of tea.

Stag didn’t even look back, which made the miners cheer even louder, and so Stag began his first home delivery to the township of Korumburra using a wheelbarrow. Jock began shouting at those miners watching the spectacle to get to work, and they all shuffled off down the mine chatting animatedly at how Stag had stuck it up that so-and-so mine manager.

Obviously a book was run to see how long Stag would last, and the most anyone gave him was about a week. There were many factors going against him like the bad roads, the awful weather, and the fact that Korumburra is in the Strzelecki Ranges. So pushing that heavy wheelbarrow laden with coal up the hills is not going to be an easy feat. In fact, such was the sturdy construction of the wheelbarrow itself, that some men might find it hard to push it long when it was empty.

*****

Over the first week of Stags new position, Albert did not really notice what was happening around town. Even though he had seen him a few times pushing the wheelbarrow around, he just thought it was just a matter of time before the man would give up. However, Stag seemed undaunted by the impossible task, and he put all his heart and soul into doing it. Within a few days he had become the most popular he had ever been in his life. His friends would cheer him as he entered the pub at the end of the day, and he would leave with a merry stagger, due to all the beers he had been bought.

The story went around the town very fast as the miners told their wives, and the wives would get to gossiping about it amongst themselves. Pretty soon women and children would line the streets to see him trudge along with his wheelbarrow, and they’d give him a hearty cheer or words of encouragement. Some even began to run out and hand him sandwiches, slices of cake or biscuits, or a drink of water. Occasionally they’d even bring him a glass of beer. Stags notoriety was growing as the man who stuck it up the mine manager.

Ten days after Stag had commenced his hand delivery of coal, Albert was at the post office picking up the mines correspondence when he heard intemperate cheering coming from outside. “What is going on out there today? Is there some special celebration going on I haven’t heard about?” he asked the Post Master

“Nah, it’s just the locals cheering on that Garrard bloke. He’s become real popular hereabouts for some reason,” the Post Master replied looking over his spectacles that hung precariously at the edge of his nose.

“Really?” Albert felt a sudden sense of foreboding, and once he had collected the mail he quickly exited the Post Office and walked to the back of a group of people standing around Garrard. They were patting him on the back, and one man handed him a cup to drink from.

“Good onya Stag, you show that bloody upstart Downey what we mining men are made of,” an old man with white hair leaning on a dirty looking cane.

Stag smiled at the old man. “You bet Jimmy, I won’t let no management get the better of me.”

“Oh – if your old dad was here he’d be right proud of you he would. He raised a son with backbone,” old Jimmy said, shaking Stags hand again.

Albert stared on the scene realising that this riff-raff saw this fool’s pride as some kind of victory over him. They were calling him all kinds of awful names and that stung Albert for some reason. His anger boiled over. “Garrard!” he shouted, bringing the reverie to a halt and making everyone turn and look at him.

They all pulled faces of contempt for him. Everyone except Stag, that was.

“Yes Boss? Stag asked.

“I don’t pay you to dilly-dally here with the locals. Get on with your work. If I catch being lazy again I’ll fire you on the spot. Is that clear?” Albert said sternly.

“Sorry Boss, won’t happen again I promise,” Stag replied evenly and he picked up his wheelbarrow and off he went down the street.

The people began cheering him again and shouting out encouragement as he left. As Albert walked back towards his car, he felt something hit him in the back hard knocking him forward a bit. It was a clump of mud. He turned sharply to see a couple of women and the old miner Jimmy standing there looking at him with smirks.

“I know who your husbands are ladies, and that might just count against them in the future,” Albert said making the ladies all walk off with nosed held high.

“I threw that divet, so don’t go blaming none of them good ladies,” Jimmy said.

“What the hell is wrong with you man?” Albert shot back.

“What you gonna do, make me push a wheelbarrow around too. It’s people like you that ruin this world, Downey,” Jimmy said with a sneer.

Then he walked off with a limp leaning so heavily on that cane that it bent wildly each time, and looked like it might break. Albert climbed into his car and headed back to his office in the town. The incident had shaken him badly.

*****

After Stag had pushed the wheelbarrow for three weeks straight, his notoriety grew and grew as word spread about his courage. The miners were secretly helping by taking home coal when they left work, in sacks, that would otherwise have been delivered. Some went out and chopped wood as an alternative for those the furthest away from the coal creek mine, making it nigh on impossible for Stag to reach them.

Not one person in the town complained back to Albert about not getting a delivery, which was something he hoped would happen. That would give him grounds to fire Stag. Small crowds of people continued to gather about to cheer him on, and the young lads in the town took turns at pushing the wheelbarrow for him at times. Something had to give soon as Stag was finding it increasingly difficult to continue on as exhaustion began to ebb away at his strength.

*****

Albert was in his office on the Monday morning that counted as the twenty-eighth day of Stags wheelbarrow delivery job, when his phone rang making him jump. It was not that often he got a call on it, but the town did have a telephone exchange and it was useful to talk to the other mines in the area. “Downey here,” he answered.

“Mr Downey I have Mr James Merchant on the line from Melbourne. Please hold,” the female operator voice said. “Go ahead Mr Merchant.”

“Albert? Can you hear me?” Merchant said gruffly.

“Yes sir. Is something wrong?” Albert was troubled as the trustees rarely called him on the phone. They still preferred to send telegrams or come down on the train and talk in person.

“Albert, what the hell is going on down there?” Merchant sounded angry which made Albert feel nervous.

“Nothing I’m aware of,” he said.

“Have you seen today’s paper? The Sun.”

“No sir, the papers don’t get here until the midday train. Is there something in it that should concern us?”

“Is there something in it? Albert the front page has a picture of some dirty looking man holding a wheelbarrow to the headline: ‘Korumburra Mine Worker Stands Up to Oppression’. This is followed with a story about you giving him some god awful job to make him quit, so you could prevent a strike. Is this true?”

“Ah… How the hell did the press find out about it?” Albert was flabbergasted, Garrard had now embarrassed him to the whole state.

“Trades Hall arranged it, I suspect. What is going on? Tell me your side of it.”

So Albert explained to Merchant that the shop-steward Bill Wyhoon had backed him into a corner threatening to strike if he fired Garrard for not showing up to work for three weeks. So he gave him the delivery job expecting him to quit, but for some reason he’s still doing it. Albert tried to reassure Merchant that Garrard is showing signs that he won’t last much longer and he expects he can fire him soon anyway.

“You can’t do that,” Merchant said.

“Then it will be all over, and we can get back to normal.”

“No, this story is going national, whether we like it or not. This Garrard is being hailed as some kind of working class hero.”

“Then how do I get rid of him?”

“Find some other reason, maybe a legal one that will paint Garrard in a bad light, and reverse some of this bad press.”

“I think I have an idea of how we can do that. He’s been leaving the wheelbarrow in the streets of Korumburra at night when it’s knock off time rather than returning it to the mine. That could be viewed as theft of property.”

“Good. Yes, get him arrested as a thief. That’ll do nicely. See to it immediately.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Take care Albert, and let me know what happens.”

“Bye Mr Merchant,” Albert said and hung up.

Albert leaned back in his chair and wondered how this minor incident had become blown out of all proportion. Garrard was the one clearly in the wrong here as far as he was concerned. The fact the man was so pig-headed as to keep doing the wretched job he had been given, is hardly Albert’s fault. Still, it had galvanised the townspeople against him. So much so that even Isabella was now getting the cold shoulder from everyone. She didn’t deserve that, he thought. So he stood and exited his office to go to the Police Station.

The Police Station was run by Sgt. Frank Walker. He was as hard as they come, having been in the Police for thirty years. He’d seen it all and then some. So when Albert entered the station he somehow knew immediately why he had come, and he wasn’t too impressed. This whole business with Stag had been causing a public nuisance for weeks now and it had to stop.

The Sergeant listened respectfully to Albert’s complaint that leaving the wheelbarrow on the streets at night qualified as theft of property, and he wanted Stag arrested the next time he does it. Once Albert had finished, Sgt. Walker looked him up and down showing a little contempt as he did. “I’m not arresting Stag,” he said coldly.

“But you have to, he’s placing mine property in danger by not returning it,” Albert said looking at him seriously.

“This whole business with Stag is your fault, Downey. You’ve caused all this, not him. So I’m going to give you twenty-four hours to finish this, or I’m coming after you,” Walker said.

“What?”

“Furthermore, if I learn Stag has been fired for some bullshit reason, then I’m coming after you and arresting you for twenty-eight counts of disturbing the peace. I’ll then hold you here in one of my cells until the visiting magistrate comes,” he said. Then he turned to another man, one of the stations constables sitting at a desk pretending to do work, but really listening to the exchange. “Hey Joe, when is the magistrates next visit again?”

The young cop looked up with a barely hidden grin. “Not for another two weeks, Sarge.”

Sgt. Walker nodded, not betraying any emotion in his hard face, he just looked at Albert waiting for his reply.

“That’s preposterous! You can’t do that,” Albert exploded his face going bright red.

“Just watch me. You’ve got twenty-four hours, Downey, and if this whole thing isn’t settled by this time tomorrow then I’m coming after you. Now get outta my station before I arrest you now, and be done with it,” Walker scowled at Albert and made him gasp, and so he promptly left the station with his proverbial tail between his legs.

Albert went home feeling defeated. Merchant had told him to be hard on the miners, and now he was angry about Garrard. The townspeople were all on Garrard’s side too, now even the Police were supporting him. He was beginning to feel that the world was ganging up on him. At home he found Isabella bent over the sink washing clothes, and he pecked her cheek in greeting. Her face was red and sweaty, and she pulled away saying in an annoyed voice, “Don’t kiss me like this. I’m dirty from chores.”

He smiled at her then said, “I don’t care, you’re my wife, and I’ll kiss you when I want to.”

“What brings you home at this time of the day? Not enough business at the mines today?”

He dropped his head. “I’m home early to escape the business of the mine. I have not had a good day.”

“Is it because of the newspaper article?” she asked looking at me with narrowed eyes.

“How did you know?”

“Mrs Axford from up the road brought it round to show me. It’s the talk of the town apparently,” she said putting her arm on his shoulder to comfort him.

“Everyone hates me Isabella, even Mr Merchant is mad at me over this whole thing. When did it all go so wrong?” Albert sagged and Isabella took him in her arms and held him. She had never heard him sound so sad, and it troubled her.

“It seems to me the answer is simple,” she said quietly in his ear.

“Oh?”

“Just reinstate Mr Garrard’s job loading the carriage trucks,” she said.

He pushed her off and stepped away. “You’re just as bad as everyone else. There’s a principle involved here. Can’t anyone see that.”

“What principle? That you’re happy to humiliate a man with the most demeaning job imaginable, to force him to quit? There is no principle here, only acerbity.” she said watching him closely.

“What do you know about managing a mine? You have no idea what is involved, you’re only a woman,” Albert shouted at her his face going red.

Isabella’s head snapped around and she bent and picked up her washing and headed for the back door in silence.

Albert realising he said the wrong thing grabbed her arm. “Bell… I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that… Please?”

She didn’t look at him but said in a hurt voice. “You’re right, I know nothing about managing a mine. But common human decency is not unknown to me, and to the Albert I once knew. The Albert who watched his own father be treated like Mr Garrard is now being treated. What happened to him?”

She then pulled her arm from his grip, and left him alone in the back of the house.

He watched her hang the clothes on the line her hair fluttering in the cool breeze. Sighing to himself he thought about what she had just said. His father was humiliated by his once rich friends who offered him demeaning jobs, after he went bankrupt. Albert remembered how mad it made him as a young man. First at the rich men (many of whom he now works for), and then at his father for having no pride in himself. He was sent to this place to be the whip that forces the miners to take less money, so the trustees could line their pockets while some coin was to be made from black coal.

Albert gasped realising that his job was demeaning too, spiritually demeaning. They were treating him just like they treated his father. Now he was doing the same thing to Garrard. Merchants words rang in his mind from the train station about how his father’s folly was not being willing to change before it was too late. “This is one Downey that will learn from the errors of my forebears,” he said pulling his pocket watch out and looking at the time.

Albert got back to the coal creek mine at four PM to find Garrard was there loading his wheelbarrow for what would be the last run of the day. He called Jock over and asked him to get Bill Wyhoon, and bring him and Garrard to his office as soon as possible. Ten minutes later both men entered the office and he invited them to sit, pouring both men some tea which they took with caution. Then he sat at his desk with his own cup of tea and said, “I owe you an apology Mr Garrard. The article in the paper today has made me see that I was wrong in giving you that job.”

“So head office gave you a wrap across the knuckles, did they,” Wyhoon said, with a smirk.

“Frankly yes… And I deserve it. They had nothing to do with this, it was all my idea.”

“Yeah, I was there when you did it, remember?” Wyhoon shot back.

“Although I do think Mr Garrard shouldn’t have just walked off site without letting anyone here know what he was doing. I was within my rights to fire him for that, regardless of his motives for doing so,” Albert reminded him.

“OK I’ll concede that,” Wyhoon said.

“I’d like to offer Mr Garrard a different job, if he’s agreeable?” Albert said looking at Stag.

“I’d like to remind you both that I am in the room,” Stag said getting annoyed by the way they were talking.

“Sorry Mr Garrard, I’d like to keep you on the transportation side. The company will pay for you get your truck license and you can continue delivering coal to the town and businesses.”

“But my job was loading train carriages?”

“Yes, I know. But the townspeople seem to love you here, and it would help fix our damaged reputation to have you delivering the coal in a much more agreeable manner,” Albert said.

Wyhoon gasped. “So all this is just so you can salvage your reputation. If you had any integrity you’d just give him his old job back again.”

Albert didn’t change his expression. “No, it’s about righting a wrong. Mr Garrard is welcome to go back to his old job, if that’s what he chooses. I just hoped that given he is now a hero to this town, he’ll continue on. Without the wheelbarrow, of course. It’ll be good for the morale of the town to see him. What do you say Mr Garrard?”

Stag shrugged. “I suppose it’s OK, but I wanna know you won’t sack me if I go on strike again, with Bill and the lads?”

“You have my word on two conditions, First, you tell Jock or myself what you’re doing so we know where you are. Second, you understand that if you go out on strike in support of the miners, you won’t get paid,” Albert said.

“That seems fair enough,” Stag said, he held out his hand towards Albert whom took it. They shook on it.

*****

The impasse was over, and Albert kept his word to Stag and eventually, as old Gabe retired, he was put in charge of transport of coal around Korumburra. The strike action didn’t end though, and each time his friends put down tools and walked off the job (which was often), so did Stag. However, he never lost his job. Eventually the Second World War intervened and Stag enlisted with his mates to go and fight overseas. Albert also enlisted, knocking back the chance to be an officer through his connections. He chose to spend his army life with the very men that he once managed at the coal creek mine in Korumburra. Stag survived the war, and afterwards he settled down in Melbourne with a wife.

Later in his life, as an old man, Stag returned to Korumburra and lived out his life there until he died. His ashes are located at The Coal Creek Historical Village to this day.

*****

Albert never came home from the war. He died in Crete. His wife Isabella received a long letter from the Prime Minister one day telling her how bravely he died. How he had saved his platoon by his actions. With the letter came the a box and inside it was The Victoria Cross Medal for valour. The highest commendation an Australian soldier can receive. She thought back to those days when her husband seemed to be the most hated man in Australia. The mine manager who made a working man push a wheelbarrow for supporting his mates. She thought it a shame that anyone who remembers that time will never know the real Albert. The Albert that this medal represents, and thus she cried at the senseless loss.

The End.

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