Men I Have Loved is a series of interviews with male characters I’ve adored in today’s fiction. Tom Forrest owns and runs a large cattle station in northern Western Australia. He’s got devastating blue eyes and infinite patience. Tom Forrest is the Aussie equivalent of a hunky cowboy and he’s the leading man in Sasha’s Wasley’s latest book, Dear Banjo.
NLK: How did you and Banjo first meet?
TF: I have to admit I can’t remember it, but I reckon Banjo and I first met a day or so after my mum brought me home from the hospital as a newborn! Living on neighbouring stations, my mum and Banjo’s mum were good friends. Now, don’t get me wrong – when I say neighbouring, we’re still talking about a fifteen-minute drive. And that’s close, by Kimberley standards. Banjo and I found a way to make it ten minutes as kids, using the quadbikes to meet at the eastern gate between our two homesteads. We usually turned it into a race (and I’d generally win, although she’ll tell you different). Anyway, our mums were good friends and Robin, Banjo’s mum, already had two daughters by the time I came along. Beth would have been nearly four and Banjo would have been about five months old. I’m sure Robin would have brought a casserole or something over for Mum and Dad, to help out while they settled in with a new baby – that’s just what people do out here. Banjo and I pretty much grew up together.
My earliest memory of her is playing in the red mud while our dads unblocked a bore together. I reckon we would have been about three years old. My mum went ape at my dad when he brought me home, covered in red mud from head to toe.
NLK: What do you find most attractive about Banjo?
TF: Just between you and me (because she’d die of embarrassment if she knew I found her attractive), it’s her spirit and drive. She’s the most brave, compassionate person I know.
She cares about the world – the earth – and all its inhabitants, and she’s not scared to try and change things. I’ve seen her work with injured, damaged animals to help them, and she studied her butt off at university for years to develop new pasture strategies – and they work. I’ve tried them! I also love how competitive she is. She’s always up for a race or a dare.
And this one is definitely not for her ears, but she also happens to be the most beautiful-looking woman in the region (if not the world).
NLK: What do you think is most important in relationships?
TF: Opening up and being real with one another. If you don’t have that, then it’s all on the surface. It’s hard to open up to someone because you have to trust them and you’re taking a risk. You could get smacked down. But if you don’t, then you might as well become a monk, because your relationship will never be satisfying.
For me, that closeness with one person is the most important thing. And red hot sizzling attraction is a close second 😉
NLK: You seem to have infinite patience, where do you get it from?
TF: Well, I don’t know about infinite. But there doesn’t seem to be much point in getting your jocks in a tangle over things you can’t control.
I guess living in a remote location makes you patient. It’s a ninety minute drive just to pop down the nearest shop, so if there’s something you want or need, you learn to do without it for a week or two. That’s tough when you’re a teenage boy and you’re waiting to get your hands on a new X-Box game you’ve been saving up for!
Working with cattle makes you pretty patient, too. Everything happens in cycles and seasons when it comes to cattle management, so although we’re always busy, there’s a predictable pace of life. That breeds patience. And cows can be bloody annoying – greedy, grumpy and irrational. It’s like working with toddlers. I reckon I’d have to credit my cows with giving me the most patience!
NLK: Do you believe in soul-mates?
TF: Absolutely. Voice of experience. And I wouldn’t settle for anything less.
It can just be hard to get someone else to recognise they’re your soul-mate, sometimes.
NLK: Can you describe the beauty of the Kimberley? What’s it like to live in such a remote part of the world?
TF: It’s incredible up here. If you haven’t seen it, you really ought to make the trip.
Quintilla, my cattle station, is just under one-fifty clicks south east of Mount Clair, and you’ll recognise it by the wrought-iron and stone gate. Drive a few hundred metres in and you’ll see the homestead sitting up on a rise. We re-roofed it a few years back so it looks pretty smart. The wet season’s tough on roof tiles. Beyond the house, there’s a bunch of outbuildings – staff dongers, machinery and stockfeed sheds, and a chopper pad. I’ve got my helicopter license so we do mustering and reconnaissance with our nice little heli. Flying’s probably the best way to see the land around here. I could take you out and show you the gorges and all the different pastures and waterholes, the bores and a big dam we constructed.
It’s the middle of the dry season right now, so everything’s red dust and dry grass. You wouldn’t want to drop a match out there. Even the cockies wait on the bores for a drink every afternoon. In the wet, we’ve got some amazing little streams and waterfalls across our patch – great for a swim – and the Herne River roars along the very bottom boundary of Quintilla. You don’t want to swim in the Herne, though – too many crocs. But yeah, everything turns green in the wet, and the cows are guaranteed a good feed as we move them from pasture to pasture. There’s always plenty of roos, and a few snakes chucked in for good measure. You really should visit. Drop in for a cuppa – we do good coffee here. (I’m so getting on the next plane – NLK)
NLK: What’s your perfect romantic date?
TF: I’m a stargazer, so I’m thinking an evening picnic out in the middle of nowhere, maybe even sitting in the tray of my 4WD. I’d set up some blankets and cushions to make it nice and comfy, and bring a platter of cheese and nibblies, antipasto, that sort of thing. Lots of vegetarian options. A couple of big fat wine glasses and a bloody good bottle of Barossa shiraz. A bit of soft music from the car radio (I’m partial to U2), and lying down together with the right person to watch the stars light up the sky.
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Dear Banjo is published by Penguin Random House and available in paperback and e-book editions.