THE FOOTFALL OF the horse was muted in soft ground and leaf litter. The path ahead glimmered with an undersheen of pale clay – forgotten gold, maybe. The forest was riddled with tunnels, had once teemed with frenzied digging, shaking, boring. It had been flayed, a long time ago, and now was porous, treacherous with sinkholes, shafts, mounds and hollows. Trees teetered on the brink of unstable heaps; others spanned dark man-made holes. It was an all but silent forest, as if contemplating its survival and recovery. From the peaks you might hear lawnmowers or chainsaws, depending on which way the wind blew, but in the valleys there was nothing of this – only the occasional gang-gang, yowling lazily through the treetops.
What a totally trashed place, she thought happily. No virgin forest, this. More like raped and stabbed and left for dead. No one could possibly care that she was bushranging on her horse, seeking out trails at random with an EPIRB in her pocket and a compass in her pack. Who would bother to regulate a place that had seen so much destruction? Nothing of what it once was remained. Had been, still was, a free-for-all. Criss-crossed with trails, some with cruel or shining names – Morning Star, Dawn Gold, Broken Neck, Deadmans. Several tracks named Nuggety. No incomprehensible Aboriginal names, with the vague unease they carried. Nothing sacred here.
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