Harry Chapman paused in his search along the creek. He rubbed a hand across his face. The mud covering his hands stuck to the three-day-old growth covering his chin.
“Where is it? It’s got to be here somewhere.”
Harry’s closest friends would not have recognized him right now. He was covered in mud, with twigs and leaves sticking out of his tangled hair. His wild eyes darted back and forth, his hands twitched restlessly and his tall frame moved constantly, head turning endlessly from side to side.
Harry forced himself to stand still for a moment. He closed his eyes and took his mind backwards in time to when he had crossed this creek three days ago.
He had been on his way to Thomas Nelson’s farm to pay a call on Daisy. Thomas’ wife had been unable to produce sons, but their three daughters were very popular. Men had outnumbered women in this community by fifteen to one since Jacob Walters found gold in his creek last summer.
Harry, a farmer himself, had managed to resist the lure of the goldfields, and was well on his way to winning the hand of Thomas’ daughter, Daisy. Because her sisters Marigold and Elizabeth were more pleasing to the eye he had only one serious competitor.
Last Saturday, Harry had shaved, scrubbed behind his ears until his neck tingled and dressed in his best suit. He filled his billycan with blackberries for Daisy who made up for her lack of looks by being the best cook in the district. Instead of following the long winding road to Nelson’s, Harry had decided to cut across country. He hoped to arrive before his competitor, Ned O’Riley.
Climbing down into the gully along Woori Yallock Creek, Harry found a tree had fallen across the creek, making a perfect place for him to cross without getting dirty. Scrambling up the steep slope on the far side of the creek, he had slipped, muddying his pants and jarring his wrist.
He sat a moment, cradling his sore wrist. That’s when he noticed a large chunk of quartz sticking out of the bank beside him. Brushing some of the dirt away, he had uncovered what appeared to be the start of a very large quartz vein and, running through it, he could see a thin gold line. The man who staked a claim on this would end up very wealthy.
Images exploded in his mind of himself and Daisy, living on a large farm, herds of cattle and sheep and fields full of crops, and a house full of children’s laughter.
Harry had carefully re-covered the quartz vein and hung his billycan on a small tree close by so that when he returned he would be able to find the spot and stake his claim.
Harry was speechless when he first saw Daisy that evening. At that moment, he thought she was even more beautiful than the painting of young Queen Victoria, which graced the parlour wall.
As Harry stood up to wait for Daisy to find a seat, he spied Ned O’Riley walking up the lane.
“I must take a moment to apologize for my soiled appearance. I had a fall on my way here,” he began to explain after the initial pleasantries had been dealt with. “I’ve found … Well, I …” he cleared his throat nervously, “I mean, well, what I’m trying to say is…” Ned's footsteps could be heard on the veranda. “Daisy, I’m hoping that I will very soon be able to speak to your father about our future together.”
Daisy had blushed shyly and Harry felt his chest puff out with pride as he considered all the things he would buy her when he had dug up that beautiful quartz reef and it’s hidden treasure.
After a lovely evening with Daisy, marred only by the presence of Ned, Harry had hurried back to the creek. In the dark he had not been able to find his billycan. He spent a restless night in his hut, and returned early next morning to stake his claim.
It had been three days now, and Harry still could not find the spot. He thought he knew this creek like the back of his hand, but he was completely bewildered. His billycan was nowhere to be found, nor was the fallen tree he had crossed the creek on.
“Must be here,” he muttered as he turned to search the creek once more.
Editor’s note: This is based on a story told by my Grandparents. “Lost Billycan Reef” was never found and has become a local legend.
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