The door opened suddenly, and Jimmy came into the house. He looked very unhappy.
‘What’s wrong, Jimmy? Did something happen when you were in town?’ Ted Hanna took his old friend Jimmy by the arm and led him to a chair.
‘Do you know who I saw in Adelaide today, Ted?’ said Jimmy. ‘It was … Gardener.’
‘What! You mean Steve Gardener? The rich man who looks for fossils all over the world and then takes them back to America for his private collection?’
‘Yes, yes,’ said Jimmy impatiently. ‘Him!’
‘I wonder why he’s in Australia,’ said Ted.
‘Ah, I know the answer to that. He was with two men. They said that they were going to the Nullabor Caves. I heard them say to him, “We can find some very valuable fossils for you. They are worth thousands of dollars.” Gardener said that he was staying in Australia for two weeks.’
‘Oh no! They must know about the special fossils in your cave.’
Ted was planning to go to the Nullarbor Caves next month, to look for the fossils of an Australian animal, the Tasmanian Tiger.
‘We have to get there before them. We must find those fossils before Gardener does.’
Ted was a palaeontologist. He spent a loot of time looking for fossils around Australia. These fossils were worth a lot of money in Europe and America, but Ted didn’t want Australian fossils to go to another country.
Just then, the door opened again.
‘Hello, Granddad. Hello, Jimmy.’ It was Louise, Ted’s granddaughter. She was staying with Ted.
‘Look what I saw in the paper,’ said Louise.
Ted took the paper, and read the story on the front page.
‘Gardener doesn’t want anyone to know about his plans,’ said Ted. ‘He says he’s only looking at museums, and that he’s leaving tomorrow. But we know better!’
Ted wanted to leave immediately, but there were things to do first. Louise got the map.
‘Look, Granddad, we need to find the fastest way to the Nullarbor Caves.’
They looked at her. ‘I’m sorry, Louise, but Gardener and his men are very dangerous. You can’t come with us this time.’
‘But, Granddad! You promised. And, anyway, I can’t stay here alone. Please can I come? Please?’
‘Perhaps you’re right. You’re probably safer with us than staying here. But you must always do what I tell you to. This isn’t a game. OK, let’s look at the map.’
Jimmy had an idea. ‘If we go through Burra, we could stop and visit my sister,’ he said. ‘I haven’t seen her for a long time.’
‘I don’t think we have time to visit people, Jimmy,’ said Ted. ‘We must go to the Nullarbor Caves before Gardener’s men. I think we should go through Port Wakefield. That’s the quickest way.’
‘Great! My uncle Gerald lives there. We could stop and have dinner with him. Then my brother lives in Conwell, and my sister, Anne, lives in Wudinna.’
Louise and Ted looked at each other. Jimmy had a big family, and he always wanted to visit them.
‘Why don’t we visit them on the way back?’ said Louise.
‘Right,’ said Ted. ‘We agree to go from Adelaide to Port Wakefield, then to Port Pirie and Port Augusta. Then we go west to Ceduna, and on until we get to the Nullarbor Caves. Is that OK, Jimmy?’
‘All right,’ said Jimmy, but he didn’t look very happy.
Ted asked Jimmy to help Louise get ready for their journey. Louise thought it was important to take a lot of things. She put them all on the floor in the living room.
‘B-b-but – what are you doing?’ Jimmy asked Louise as he looked at everything on the floor. ‘We are only going for a few days, not for month!’
‘Well,’ said Louise, ‘I know it will be hot outside, and cool in the caves. And we need something to drink, and medicines, and –‘
Early the next morning, Jimmy and the Hannas drove out of Adelaide towards the Nullarbor Caves. Everything they needed was in te car: water, torches for the cave, food, ropes, and all the things that Ted needed to get the fossils out of the rock.
They had a long way to go, so Jimmy told Ted and Louise stories about his people and things he remembered about the caves.
‘When we were little, we spent hours watching the animals. You’ve probably seen a kangaroo, but there different types. There’s the big red kangaroo that has red fur. It can run faster than a car. Wallabies are like small kangaroos. Then there are other animals, like koalas. They live in trees and have brown fur, so when they don’t move, it’s very difficult to see them. Wombats live under the ground. They look like koalas, but their fur is grey. Dingoes are like small dogs. They have sharp teeth, but they aren’t dangerous.
‘Once in the caves, when I was young, I saw the shadow of a really big animal.’
‘What was it, Jimmy?’ asked Louise, excitedly.
‘I don’t know, but it was like a very big dog, with very big teeth. We ran out of the cave and it stayed at the entrance.’
It was late in the afternoon, and everyone was tired.
They were driving slowly round a corner and suddenly Louise shouted, ‘Look out, Granddad!’ A kangaroo was standing in front of them, and the car went off the road.
They all got out of the car. No one was hurt, but they couldn’t drive the car any more.
Just then, another car came around the corner, and stopped.
‘Oh no!’ said Jimmy. ‘It’s Gardener’s men.’
The two men got out of their car and one of them walked up to Ted.
‘Hey, Martin,’ the big man called to his friend. ‘Isn’t that Ted Hanna, the famous fossil hunter?’
‘Yes, Alf, I think it is.’
Alf looked at Ted. ‘You’re a problem, Hanna. Stay away from us. If we see you again, we’ll kill you and your friend.’
‘And the girl,’ said Martin.
Martin and Alf tied Jimmy and Hannas together, and then they drove away.
After a short time, Louise untied all the ropes.
She picked up a paper and read the message: “Nullarbor Caves. Only take tiger fossils in big cave, 700 m from entrance”.
‘We must hurry,’ said Jimmy. ‘I know where we can walk. We have to go north-east from here. We can walk five kilometres an hour, and Alf and Martin can’t drive fast because the road is dangerous. They can’t go faster than thirty kilometres an hour. Come on.’
‘I’m afraid of those men. Can we get there before them, Jimmy?’ asked Louise.
‘Be careful where you walk!’ said Jimmy. ‘There are a lot of dangerous animals in the outback. They can kill people.’
‘What sort of animals?’ asked Louise.
‘Well, there are scorpions. They sting with their long tail. They live under rocks. And there are two very dangerous snakes – one is green and yellow, and the other is yellow and black. Then there are the spiders; one with black hairs can kill you, and one with red on the back has a horrible bite.’
Louise tried to laugh. ‘So if those men don’t kill us, the outback will,’ she said.
Ted put his arm around her. ‘I promise I’ll keep safe,’ he said. ‘Jimmy and I will look after you.’
In less than an hour, the three walkers arrived at the cave. They couldn’t see Alf and Martin’s car.
‘Let’s hope we are first,’ said Ted. ‘But they might be at another entrance. Come on, we must be quick.’
‘Is it the right place?’ asked Louise.
Jimmy stood still and looked around. ‘Yes, but it has changed since I was here as a boy. That tree was there, but now it isn’t standing straight. And look, there are steps into the cave. They are new. And I think there were rocks inside the cave.’
‘Are you sure this is the right entrance?’ asked Ted.
‘Oh, yes. I wrote the letter ‘J’ for Jimmy in the rock here. Look! That was because I was the only boy who went into the caves. My brothers were too afraid.’
It was dark and cold in the cave. Louise was afraid. She held Ted’s hand, but stopped when she saw pictures on the walls.
‘These are beautiful!’ she said.
‘Yes,’ said Ted. ‘And they are very clear.’
‘My people drew pictures to tell stories,’ said Jimmy. ‘They drew pictures of the things that they found here, like animals and insects. They drew the plants and food that they could eat. And three long lines show there is water.
‘What do these circles mean, Jimmy?’ asked Louise.
‘Well,’ he answered, ‘sometimes they mean rain, sometimes they are fruit. But they also show people’s dreams.’
‘So how do you know what they mean?’
‘You must look at all the pictures together. These ones are easy to understand,’ said Jimmy.
‘I think the pictures say that people hunted in the caves in the past, and there is a river somewhere under the ground,’ said Louise.
‘And,’ said Jimmy, ‘that they dreamed about a big animal here, but I don’t know what the animal is.’
‘Ugh!’ said Louise. ‘At least we know it isn’t the Tasmanian Tiger. It’s dead, so there are only fossils of it now. Let’s move quickly. I want to find the fossils and get out of here.’
‘I agree,’ said Ted. ‘Those men are dangerous. Is there another way out of the cave, Jimmy, if we need to escape?’
‘Yes, but some of the ways are very long, and could be dangerous.’ Jimmy led the way through the tunnels. They were nearly at the fossils when Louise saw something on the ground.
‘Look,’ she said. ‘What do these marks mean?’
Jimmy looked closely at them. ‘Oh, no!’ he said. ‘We may be in trouble.’
‘Should we go back?’ asked Louise.
Ted and Jimmy looked at each other. ‘No,’ said Ted finally. ‘Now that we are here, we should find these fossils. Then we can leave.’
Ted looked worried. ‘We must be quick. Gardener’s men can’t be far away, and I don’t want to meet the animal that left those marks.’
They walked around a corner … and saw a wall full of fossils! Ted carefully started taking them out of the wall, the most important ones first, and asked Louise to identify them. She used her book to help her.
‘What will you do with them, Granddad?’ asked Louise.
‘Jimmy thinks we should give them to the National Museum. Then everyone can see them, and they stay in Australia.’
‘That’s a good idea. But you won’t get any money for them.’
‘That’s not important,’ said Ted, looking crossly at Louise. ‘We don’t need the money, and these fossils belong to everyone. I think Jimmy’s idea is a good one.’
Suddenly there was a noise in the tunnel.
‘Hands up, Hanna!’ shouted Alf. ‘We’ll take the fossils now. You have done all the hard work for us. Thank you! And now we’ll have to kill you all!’
Ted looked at the gun in Alf’s hand, then he looked at Louise’s white face. He needed time to think of a plan.
‘So you found us,’ Ted said. ‘But how did you know where to look for the fossils?’
‘It was easy,’ said Alf. ‘I’ll tell you before you die. My father knew these caves well. He wrote about them in a special book. He’s dead now, but I’ve got that book. He wrote, “If you are looking for fossils, go to the cave with three entrances. There are two big rocks in the middle. You can hear water, so it’s near a river. There are hundreds of fossils there”.’
‘You’re not interested in these fossils,’ said Ted. ‘You just want to sell them to Gardener, and get a lot of money.’
‘That’s right, Hanna,’ said Alf, smiling. ‘They’re just a lot of old rocks. And now it’s time for you to die.’
‘You’ll never get out of the country,’ said Ted. ‘People know we are here, and they’ll come and look for us.’
‘Hugh! Nobody will find your bodies in here,’ said Martin. ‘Stand over there, all of you.’
‘Kill me, Alf, but let the others go,’ said Ted.
‘Be quiet! Martin, get a rope from the bag and tie them up.’
Martin went to the bag to get the rope. Louise was watching him.
‘He’s going to get a surprise,’ she thought.
Martin screamed. There was a snake in the bag.
When Alf turned round, Louise jumped forward and took the gun. Jimmy and Ted caught Alf and tied him up with the rope
‘Help me! A snake has bitten me,’ said Martin. He was lying on the floor holding his arm.
‘Help you? Why?’ said Louise. ‘You wanted to kill us.’
‘We’ve got to help him,’ said Ted. ‘There’s some medicine in my bag. Go and get it, but don’t go near Martin.’
Louise walked carefully towards Ted’s bag. She looked at Martin all the time. He was very ill now.
‘Hurry up! Please!’ he said quietly.
Ted put some medicine from the green bottle on the snake bite and tied Martin’s hands together. Then he carefully put the fossils in his bag. ‘We need to get a doctor quickly. Come on, we must get out of here,’ ha said.
Ted and Martin went first. All followed, with Jimmy and the gun behind him. Louise was last.
‘Jimmy, do you think there really is a big animal living in these caves?’ asked Louise nervously. ‘I thought I heard a noise.’
‘Don’t be silly!’ said Ted. Nothing lives in here.’
Just then they saw the entrance, and the sun shining outside.
Louise reached the entrance and looked behind them. There in the shadow stood a big animal. It looked at them, and then went back into the cave.
‘It was only a dingo,’ said Alf.
Jimmy and Louise looked at each other. They knew it wasn’t a dingo.
Ted took his radio out of his bag. He called the flying doctor, and explained the problem. He told the doctor where they were.
‘The doctor will be here in twenty minutes,’ Ted said. ‘We need to find a place where the plane can land. The plane needs somewhere long and flat.’
‘I think I can see a good place for the plane,’ said Jimmy, pointing to an area near them. But we must move those two rocks.’
They all looked around.
When the plane landed in Adelaide, there was an ambulance, lots of policemen, and reporters from newspapers and television stations.
‘We’re famous,’ whispered Louise.
‘Only for today,’ said Jimmy. ‘Tomorrow they will forget about us. You’ll see.’
The police took Alf away, and a policeman went in the ambulance with Martin.
The police officer spoke to Ted. ‘Don’t worry, Mr Hanna. Your fossils are safe and we will find Mr Gardener. These men will go to prison for a long time.’
Later that week, Ted was reading through hundreds of letters. They were from people wanting to buy the fossils.
‘They are too late,’ Ted told Jimmy. ‘We have already decided where they’re going, haven’t we?’
A month later nearly everything was back to normal for Ted, Louise and Jimmy. Martin got better, but he and Alf were in prison. The police caught Gardener at the airport. He had a ticket to New Zealand to take more fossils.
‘Where are we going next time, Granddad?’ asked Louise. ‘I liked our adventure in the Nullarbor Caves.’
‘I’ve heard that there are fossils of early crocodiles in Queensland,’ said Ted. ‘The forests there have lots of secrets about the past that I’d like to discover.’ He had a distant look in his eyes, and a smile on his face.
Jimmy and Louise looked at each other.
‘Jimmy and I have another idea, Granddad. Why don’t we do something different? You always look for dead things. Why don’t we look for something that is living?’
Louise was thinking of the strange animal in the cave.
‘Louise is right,’ said Jimmy. We might discover a new type of animal that hasn’t been seen before.’
Ted looked from Louise to Jimmy.
Louise spoke again. ‘It would be much more exciting,’ she said. ‘And Jimmy and I know just where to look …’
‘And we could visit my family,’ said Jimmy, with big smile.