Today I heard a horse galloping up the hill towards town, iron shoes clanging against the bitumen, going hell for leather. It made me wonder if Johnny Chester was back in town.
When I was a kid, we camped in a bush hut by Broke Inlet. The door was unlocked and there was a pile of firewood by the grate. We stayed there for a few days. I asked Dad about the name carved into the wall near the table. "Ahh ha. Johnny Chester," Mum and Dad laughed together and Mum said, "So he's still on the loose. He must have been holed up here. Cocky int he?"
When we left the hut, Dad made us kids collect some firewood and leave it by the fireplace.
In 1976, Johnny and another man bombed the brand new WA Chip and Pulp Company's terminal in Bunbury, to protest against the Government-sanctioned logging of old growth forests for woodchips. "I will fight and die for the right to give nature to my children," he said. 1,000 sticks of gelignite, a stolen sawnoff and one trussed up security guard later, they managed to do a bit of damage and not hurt anyone. People felt that blast ten kilometres away. A week later Johnny and his mate were tracked down and arrested. I suppose now it would be tried as a serious case of sedition or even terrorism. They both got three and a half years.
About twenty years after the bombing, I met Johnny. It's funny, despite those Ned Kelly-style stories from my childhood of a fugitive, wild man bomber on an environmental mission, I only recently realised that I'd met him. He used to ride his horse into town, stay a few days and then head back out to the Porongorup ranges where he had a camp. I ran a market stall selling clothes and stuff. He brought in things for me to sell: little moss gardens that he'd planted in hollowed-out wood, necklaces made from fox's teeth and fencing wire. He always wore a filthy khaki beanie with rosella feathers stuck all over it.
He would ride one horse into town and lead another, plus he had a speckled cattle dog and a brown kelpie trotting beside him. He rode right down the main street, with his horses and dogs and his wares. Lovely.
So today, I heard that horse galloping up the road towards town and I thought of Johnny Chester. He's still around, somewhere, I think.