WINNER of the prize for WORKING CLASS WRITER (THE WELKIN WRITING PRIZE 2023)
by PJ Yeatman
The farm manager came knockin on the door of my donga and asked if I’d lay traps. We’d run a 1080 bait program for the dingoes but often you get a slippery one. I said, ‘Why not.’
He said, ‘You’ll have to shoot it.’
‘You sayin I haven’t got the balls?’
‘Just makin sure, mate.’
About a million hectares we had on that sheep station, all of it flat and red like a scab, reachin toward an unreachable horizon. Forty-eight paddocks drawn by wire. Parcels of dirt and salt, bluebush and myall, and now and then a concrete bore like a shrine. Water wished up from the dry earth.
I drove the ute out to Mile Paddock, parked alongside a gully and gathered the traps. Funny lookin things, like the bones of some deep-sea fish. They had rubber jaws meant to just grab an animal instead of hurtin it. Climbin down into the breakaway, I laid em along the scorched waterbed. Then splashed em with dog piss from a bottle.
Next day I checked back and nothin.
And nothin the day after.
I dreamed I found a dingo caught. Bloody thing big as a bus. I shot at it but missed. I kept shootin and I kept missin and somehow never ran out of bullets. The whole time that mongrel starin at me with coalrock eyes, neither scared or angry or nothin I could make out.
The fourth mornin I drove up and there it was. Lean as a knife, yellow as sand. Mouth curled in a fatal smile. I crouched down a little way off with the rifle laid across my knees and wiped the sweat off my brow. I watched the dingo and it watched me back, calm, like it knew the future. The gun was stone heavy. I’d seen livestock killed but it’s as though they’re made for it. A dingo does its own thing. Been that way since long before there were sheep or fences or blokes like me.
I thought of callin the manager. Do I have to shoot it? Can’t I just drive it up north somewhere, set it loose? Course I already knew what he’d say. And that word’d get around among the stockmen that I was a softcock.
So there was really nothin for it. I shouldered the rifle. I told the damn thing I was sorry.
PJ Yeatman is an emerging Australian speculative fiction writer. He's fascinated by the ways people make a living in remote places. He lives in Melbourne with his partner where he manages a cafe.
I was immediately taken by the tone of voice in this piece (it felt wonderfully authentic), and I found myself drawn in by this pivotal moment brought to life. There are so many details here that kept me interested through multiple reads, especially the different ways of reading the title – is it just the dingo that is being trapped, or is it also the narrator? Is it all of us who are trapped by preconceptions of what makes us strong and what makes us weak?