By Bryce Courtenay
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Meg is putting in a lot of groundwork with the two Thomas girls these days. She’s gone over to the Anglicans and got Hester to do the same. It’s good tactics – the Thomases wouldn’t marry a Lutheran or a Catholic for that matter, strictly C of E that lot. If Meg wins over Ada Thomas and the two girls, you can put down your glasses, George Thomas and his boy Jack don’t stand a chance. Joe can see it all, the future rolling out like a Sunday church carpet, the same red carpet they use for weddings at St Stephen’s: his eldest daughter emerging from the church, Mrs Meg Thomas of Riverview homestead, soon to take to squatters’ ways as though she’s bloody born to them.
If you can’t you’re a useless bastard. If you can, you’ll just about do. That’s how men judge things. You have to be their equal. Men always look to see if you’re their equal. The only thing they fear is if you are better than they are. On the other hand, in her experience, nobody thinks you’re much chop if you’re the equal of any other woman. But Jessica thinks she can see why life is tough for these men, for Joe. Her father is stubborn and set in his ways and she’s beginning to think the mighty Joe Bergman might not be a very good farmer.
Though most could do you a ballad or two if they were pissed enough and in a mellow mood. Joe had taught Jessica one such poem, a favourite of his, when she was younger. She had recited it proudly to her class on the first day she’d attended the small bush school for the children of the farmers, shearers, drovers and stockmen. ’ the teacher had asked on the very first morning. Jessica, not backward even at that age, stuck up her hand. ’ the teacher asked. She nodded. ’ ‘Yes, Miss. ’ she said.