There is no track between the Mersey River and the Middle East. On the sea, you cut a path across emptiness; the wilderness of waves covers over it immediately. Boy Miles was on a ship coming home in 1942 when the enemy intercepted. He was taken as a prisoner-of-war and forced to work on the Thai-Burma Railway. The Death Railway.
It’s a long way from the jungles of south-east Asia to the Central Plateau. Further still, perhaps, from the shrill screech of human depravity to the silent warmth of friendship and family. In monsoon, Boy toiled with body bared, his hide riddled with ulcers and sores. Around him, fellow-slaves took on cholera, starved, went demented with illness, and died by the thousands.
But maybe in moments of pause Boy Miles took himself back to the grazing plains beneath that mountain range, where, alongside his brother, he rode through the valleys, trapping possums and rabbits, sleeping out, swimming in the river. It may seem like a small life to some, especially compared to what they called ‘the grandeur of war’: but what a mighty stage.
The war ended. The medics discharged Boy Miles just as the waratahs came into bloom in the summer of 1945, and coming home, the bright bush gleamed, the clean air shimmered and the broad country beckoned him. Things weren’t the same; any fright would send Boy to the floor, curled up in the foetal position. People were difficult creatures to be around. There were scars, things mangled inside him. So it was only in the mountains that any solace was to be found.
In the years to come, Boy Miles felled pines and split shingles and built himself some huts to shelter him at night when he went out with a dog and a gun to Liena, Deception Plains, Lake Ball, Dublin Road. They were simple buildings: a fireplace, a bunk, somewhere to hang the skins. It was all he wanted from a home. To keep him safe and sound, and more importantly still, to keep him free to roam the bush.