Wednesday, August 6, 2008
BURT BOOTH -2 ©
Every morning at breakfast time old Burt would drink a large glass of fizzy stuff.
"What's in your water that makes it fizz?"
"Epsom Salts, mate."
"What's it for?"
"Stops ya getting bunged up and keeps ya on the go. Wanna' try some?"
"What's it taste like?"
"Not too bad once ya git used to it."
"Alright, I'll try half a glass."
Kay mixed up half a glass of Epsom Salts and I took a big mouthful. It was really putrid and made me screw up mi face.
"Now what's the matter?" He said as he laughed out loud. "Don't tell me ya can't even drink half a glass of salts!"
"It's putrid!" I said as I put the glass down on the table.
"Don't waste those salts. Finish it off whether ya like it or not!"
That was the last time I ever asked him what he was drinking!
After breakfast we tied an axe and a shovel each onto our bikes and he tied the Esky box on his bike rack and we peddled of on another dirt track road up into the Mali country. That day and almost every day after that for 5 months we chopped down small trees and suckers. Sometimes we would stack up big stumps and logs and then set fire to 'em. The shovel was to carry hot coals from one pile of wood to another. This was what old Burt meant by clearing Mali country. No bulldozers or tractors for me, just a big, heavy axe and a long-handled shovel!
It was like living in hell working with old Burt in the Mali. We worked 9 or 10 hours a day. The heat was up around the 100-degree mark and, to make matters worse, the heat from the big fires burned my face and arms as I tried to get close enough to shovel a pile of red-hot ashes.
The first week I could hardly open mi hands. I had blisters growing on broken blisters. I pissed on mi hands so many times that I thought I'd of run out of piss by now. Old Burt had done this kind of work all his life so he was used to it by now and at the end of a day he was just as fresh and fit as ever. I was so knackered that first week that it took all mi time to peddle the bike home.
One morning, as we were re-stoking up the fires, a 4 foot Copperhead snake came wriggling out from under a large stump.
"Look out! That's a Copperhead! Stand still and it won't hurt ya!" yelled Burt.
The Copperhead was about 5 feet away from me and about the same distance from Burt. Its head was a shiny copper color and the rest of its body was a deep reddish-brown. As soon as it turned to go, old Burt swung the long-handled shovel and hit the snake in the middle of the back with the flat of the shovelhead. It was really pissed. He swung the shovel again and this time he hit the snake with the side of the shovel and cut it clean in two! The shovelhead cut the snakes head off about 3 inches behind the copper coloring. The snake wriggled around for a few minutes before it was stone dead.
"Watch what ya doing with those bastards. One bite from those and you'll be dead in 2 minutes. The venoms so strong you'll have a heart attack!"
From that day on, I was very careful where I walked in Mali country.
The more I worked in the Bush, the more I learned its harsh lessons. There were hundreds of poisonous snakes around the Bush. Browns,
Copperheads and Tiger snakes were the most deadly and the most common in those parts. There was no lack of lizards either. Blue Tongues, Bog Eyes, Frill Necks and Goanas were in plentiful supply. After a couple of weeks old Burt would send me off up the Mali, on mi own, so I had to be real careful then 'cause one bite and I'd have been one dead Pommy bastard!
Sometimes Burt and me would go up the paddock in his old Ute. At those times he always had the .22 rifle stuck up the back of the window ledge. On this particular day we saw a mob of roos sitting in the middle of the dirt truck. Old Burt stopped the Ute and grabbed the rifle. He stuck it out the window, took careful aim, then 'BOOM'! He shot a big, gray male but it never went down. It just sat there, dazed, as the bullet sank into him.
"Come on!" yelled old Burt as he jumped out of the Ute.
I jumped out after him and we ran toward the huge gray male. Burt took aim and put another bullet into him and he wobbled over on his side.
"Grab him by the tail!"
"Not likely! He's still alive! He'll probably kick me!"
"Roos can't kick backwards. They can only kick forwards. Grab him by the tail!" he yelled!
I ran forwards and grabbed the roo by the tail. He was about 6 feet tall. As soon as I got mi hands around his thick strong tail he seemed to come back to life again. He scrambled back onto his feet and started to growl! I was shit-scared by now but I was made even more scared 'cause if I let him go he would ripped my guts out with the big, sharp, hooky toenails on the end of his feet.
"Hang on to him mate!" said Burt as he roared with laughter. "Don't let him go mate or he'll kick ya guts out!"
The big roo was really strong. He tried to twist around and grab mi head with his large hands and every time he twisted round I had to duck as well as hang on to his tail.
BOING! BOING! BOING! He hopped all over the track trying to get away from me but I was hangin' on for dear life!
"Shoot him before he kills me!"
"Hang on to him mate. It'll do ya good. Make a fucking man out of a boy!"
After about 5 minutes, I could not longer hold him so I yelled out,
"I'm losing my grip on him!"
"Hang onto the gray bastard. You're a goner if he grabs hold of you!"
After another minute Burt picked up a log, hard Mali stick and yelled to me.
"Keep ya fucking head down, Pommy, or you'll get it knocked off!" Old Burt came up close to the room that was now so pissed he had froth coming out of his mouth.
"Hang onto him mate!" said Burt, who took a well-aimed blow and brought the Mali stick crashing down hard on the roos' head. This big blow slowed him down 50 percent and another well-aimed blow from the stick sent him sprawling to the ground. The dogs, who were tied up in the back of the Ute, were going nuts!
"Let those fucking dogs loose mate."
I was so relieved to let that roo go, I almost shit misen with fear and excitement. I ran over to the Ute and unhooked the dogs. They leapt out of the Ute and grabbed the roo by the throat. Within 2 minutes, the dogs had ripped the roos' throat out. Burt called 'em off and sent 'em back to the Ute.
"He's a big, rough bastard that one. Look at the size of the knackers on him! They're bigger than mine and yours put together mate."
"Why d'ya tell me to grab his tail? I thought he was dying."
"Take more than a couple of .22's to kill one of those big bastards. Anyway, how are ya mate?"
"I was really scared he was gonna kill me. Would you have shot him if he got hold of me?
"Don't be silly sport. A .22 bullet is worth more than a pommy any day." he said and then roared with laughter.
"Fuck you Burt, ya miserable old Aussie bastard!"
Burts' bushy eyebrows raised up a ways and then he roared with laughter again. After a minute or so he stopped laughing and went back to his normal, miserable self again.
"Throw the bastard in the back of the Ute. There's enough dog tucker there for a week, mate."
On another occasion Burt sent me up the Mali on mi own to do some clearing. It was a beautiful, clear and bright sunny morning as I peddled the old bike along the dirt bush tracks. The red wattle trees were in full bloom and the slight odor of tea tree drifted on the gentle breeze. Each side of the track was dense bush. A few feet ahead of me, sitting in a small gum tree was a 6-foot Goana. He was laid along a thick branch taking in the morning sun. I stopped mi bike and got off, then leaned it against a bush. The Goana looked huge to me as I circled the trunk of the tree looking up at him.
Just then, an idea flashed across my mind. I remembered seeing David Attenborough on the TV as a child. He caught big lizards with a long pole and a slip-noose on the end. 'If David Attenborough could do it, so can I', I thought as I hunted around the bush for a suitable long branch.
The Goana just sat up the tree, not really too interested in anything but sunning himself. At last I found the right branch. I went back to mi bike and removed the axe. It did not take very long to trim up the branch. My next job was to walk the fence line looking for a piece of fencing wire. This was not as difficult as one may think because there is always a scrap of wire lying along a fence line. I made a noose in the end of the high-tensile wire and then fastened the other end to the long pole. Standing under the tree, I very quietly slid the pole through mi hands, up in the air toward the big Goanas' head but as soon as he saw it coming, he crawled a bit further up the tree out of range of my long stick.
'A cunning bastard are ya?' I thought to miself. 'Now I'll have to get a longer stick 'cause it's a battle of wits now.' The next long pole I cut, I fixed the wire noose to the end and pushed it back up in the air. The very same thing happened. The Goana crept further up the branch. Eventually he ran out of branch and could go no further so when I found the longest branch I could, I knew I had him. Very carefully, I pushed the long pole up in the air. I maneuvered the wire noose close to his big scaly head. Then POP! The noose went over his head and I gave it a good pull and started to back-peddle. The six-foot Goana came crashing down out of the tree and landed with a thud in a cloud of red dust.
'O shit! What now?' I couldn't remember what Sir David did with his big lizard once the noose was around its neck. Here I am with a large Goana on the end of a long pole and he's really pissed now. The Goana ran in all directions causing a big cloud of dust to arise as he thrashed his long, scaly tail. At one point he tried to run me over but the long pole brought him to a fast halt. It felt like having a 6-foot shark on the end of a small pole as he thrashed around on the dirt track. It took about half-an-hour before he decided to call it quits.
Once he was laid quiet, I got the axe handle and put it across the back of his neck and stood on it so he couldn't move, although he kept thrashing his tail. Next, I carefully pushed the wire back through the slip-noose till it loosened and opened up bigger. No sooner was the noose off his head and my foot was off the axe handle, I ran one way and he ran the other way, straight back up another tree. This time he chose a larger gum tree, one that was so high I could barely make him out as he lay breathing, heavily camouflaged by silvery gum leaves.
'That was a lot of fun!' I thought as I peddled on up the track. Old Sir David would have been proud of me. By this time, I had wasted about 4 hours and the next day when Burt came back up the paddock he knew, by what was left of the sticks and stumps that I'd been up to something.
"What the hell were ya doing all day yesterday? You've only done a couple hours work. D'ya think I pay you mi hard-earned cash to fuck around all day? I suppose ya were sat under a fucking tree in the shade, flogging ya bloody maggot for half a day? Next time ya slack off I'll stop half-a-days pay on ya, ya lazy good-for-nothing Pommy bastard! Ya wouldn't work in an iron lung, ya bastard! Now git ya arse up and ya head down. I wanna see this whole section cleaned up today and put that bloody cigarette out! Ya can't work and smoke at the same time. Smoke in ya own time, not mine ya lazy bastard!"
While it's true, I wasted 4 of his hours, I was not a 'lazy bastard' and at that point I decided I was going to work this old, miserable bastard into the ground before I pulled the pin on him.
I learned many more hard lessons with old Burt Booth and I even learned to respect his working ability but I never learned how to like him and what he stood for. There were even times when I had a good time with old Burt but they were very few and far between.
One lunchtime, while I was in his house, the bedroom door had been left open. Me, being very inquisitive, I looked through the small opening of the doorway as I sat at the table.
"What's laying across ya bed, Burt?"
"That? Come and have a butchers, mate."
Laying the full length and width of his bed was a beautiful fox-skin rug. When I touched it, it felt thick and soft. Along both sides of the rug hung 8 bushy foxtails.
"She's a beaut eh?" said Burt
"Yes. It must have cost you a small fortune?"
"The only expense it cost was to have a bloke cut and stitch 'em together and sew the backing on."
"Where d'ya get the skins from?"
"Shot 'em miself. They're all first-class winter skins. Shot every one of 'em with a headshot. There's no holes in those skins, mate. I made it for mi missus for an anniversary present. She wouldn't be able to sleep without it now."
"Can we go fox shooting one night Burt?"
"Suppose so. Can't see why not. Ya can hold the spot for me, I'll drive and do the shooting."
A couple of nights later, on a new moon, we took off into the paddocks on Burts' tractor, spotlighting for foxes. Once we got in a paddock Burt would drive slowly around in the dark and I shone the spotlight all around the paddock and bush looking for 2 shiny eyes.
"There's one! Hold the spot on him steady!
Burt aimed his .22 and BANG! the two bright eyes disappeared.
"Ya missed him Burt!"
"Not a bloody chance! Got the bastard right between the fucking eyes! Keep the spot where it is mate or we'll lose him!"
I kept the spotlight right in the same place as Burt tore across the paddock, bumping over the fallowed ground as we went.
"There he is mate! Dead as a fuckin' maggot. Hop off and grab him. He must have a mate somewhere around here."
When I picked up the fox by his bushy tail, I could see old Burt was right. The fox had a small, dark hole right between his eyes and as I carried him over to the tractor, blood started to drop right out of the hole and got all over mi work boots.
"Can I have a go shooting now Burt?"
"I don't think so mate. You'll probably miss and hit one of mi good steers. You just hang on to the spot. That's your job mate. Leave the shooting to me."
(As it turned out, old Burt was wrong. I ended up being a crack shot with a rifle or shotgun.)
A couple of nights later, Burt knocked on mi door.
"D'ya wanna go roo shooting?"
"Do I ever!" I said excitedly.
"Git some warm gear on then. We'll be out for about 4 hours and it's a cold night. You'll freeze ya knackers off, if not."
"Where's the rifle?" I said to Burt as he sat on the mudguard of the tractor.
"We're taking the shotgun tonight. Those bastard roos are eating all mi good wheat crops. They've already eaten more than a mob of bloody sheep! A few lead pellets in their arse and they won't come back in a hurry."
"There's a mob of 20 or so Burt!" I said, as the spotlight picked them up. The roos were quite happily sat in the middle of Burts' wheat paddock, pulling up fresh young wheat shoots, chewing the juicy roots off and throwing the rest away.
Burt put the tractor into road gear and we tore off across the paddock after the roos. With his spare hand he reached for the 5-shot pump-action Browning. As soon as the roos heard us coming, they took off at top speed across the paddock heading for the fence and the safety of the bush on the other side.
Sometimes it is very hard to shoot the roos 'cause many times a Cockies paddock would be surrounded by Mali and once the roo jumped the fence he was home and free, laughing at the Cocky on the other side. No one would blame a mob of roos for coming out of the scrub, hopping over the fence and having a good feed of sweet, young wheat or oat shoots. Too much of that and the Cockies profit would be eaten away in a month.
"Grab the steering wheel!" said Burt, as he raised the shotgun.
The roos were now going flat-out towards the safety of the Scrub.
BOOM! went the old pump-action. BOOM! BOOM! "Three shots and one roo down Burt!" I yelled.
Burt let rip with 2 more shots and 2 more roos hit the dust. The rest of the roos were now close to the fence, so Burt slowed the old tractor down.
"That'll teach the bastards! They won't come back for a few nights now. Let's go and pick up the dead ones."
Burt swung the tractor around and I shone the spot all over the paddock looking for the dead roos.
"There's one!", I said. "And ther's another!"
"The other one should be around here somewhere.", said Burt, as we hung them on the back of the tractor.
"There he is!", I said. "He's still alive Burt!."
Burt handed me a large spanner, which he kept on the tractor at all times.
"Here ya go. Bash the bastard on the bloody head and look out he doesn't grab ya. He's still got a lot of fight left in him."
Burt took hold of the spotlight and shone it on the roo. He was really pissed and cranky as he balanced on his one good leg and tail. I took a firm grip on the heavy tractor wrench and jumped off the tractor into the soft red dirt. As I walked up to the big gray, he made a loud growling sound.
"Look out mate. Keep ya eye on him or he'll have ya!:"
"How do I get close enough to hit him?"
"When he goes for ya, sidestep him and give him a good whollup behind the ears and don't fucking miss or he'll grab ya and kick ya guts out!"
I tried to circle the room but he was an old, cunning bastard and he kept his eyes on me at all times. All of a sudden, without warning, he jumped at me and quick as a flash, I jumped to the side and swung the wrench towards his head. The end of the wrench connected with his head and he fell over sideways.
"Git into the bastard. If ya let him get up, he'll have another go at ya!"
I shot forwards to where the room had fallen and gave him a good, hard whack between the ears with the wrench and another one in the same place and he kicked his last.
"We might make a good Aussie out of ya yet mate.", said Burt, as he chuckled to himself in the dark.
That night I had nightmares about the big, old roo.
After a month of works at Burts' property, he said to me,
"We're off into town tomorrow afternoon. If ya wanna come, come over to the house later and I'll pay you ya months wages."
"Sit down at the table,", said Burt as I walked into the kitchen. "Now ya see this form? It's the Award Wage Sheet. Ya see this column? 15 years old and across here it sez, 44 hour week and at the end column 7 pounds sixpence, right? Now, it says here, the maximum amount to be deducted for tucker and room, no more than 4 quid. That'll leave ya 12 pounds and 2 shillings for the month. I'll pay ya the money in town tomorrow afternoon when I cash a cheque."
That evening as I lay on mi bed, I was remembering all the hard work I'd done over the first month. '3 quid a week doesn't sound too good to me.', I thought. 'I made 25 bob a week off of a newspaper round in Yorkshire for a couple of months. I won't be able to save too much on that miserly amount!'
OFF TO TOWN
The next day, being Saturday, I finished mi work at 12 and by 1 O'clock
I was showered and in mi good town gear waiting in Burts' old, blue comby Volkswagen for his missus to come out.
"They're all the bloody same, women. All morning she's had to get ready and she's still not here! Go and tell her, Burt said to git a move on or I'll leave her at home!"
I ran across to the kitchen where Kay was,
"Burt says he's gonna leave ya here if ya don't git'a move on, Mrs. Booth."
"Go and tell Burt, I'm on my way." She said.
"She's on her way.", I said to Burt as I climbed into the Comby.
In a few minutes old Kay got in the front of the Comby and said,
"OK! What ya waiting for Burt. I thought ya were in a hurry?"
"Strueth woman, what ya got all that paint and powder on ya face for? You'll scare the Bungs on Chamens Corner half to death when they see you!"
"Very funny Burt. Are you going to drive or are we going to bake ourselves in the Van?"
Old Burt started the Comby and we drove down the track, past the dam and out onto the dirt road to Lake Cargelligo. Burts' Comby rattled like hell on the rough dirt road and before long, mi good white shirt was covered in red dust. I didn't feel to bad about it because Kays' white hat with the frill of white lace on it was just the same color as my shirt.
It was exactly 12 miles to Lake Cargelligo from Burts' front gate to the strip of bitumen road, just out of town. It was a relief when the Comby hit the bitumen because the dust stopped coming through the door hinges and the rattles went almost silent. (Lake Cargelligo was like most other Bush towns except that it had a big lake at the end of the street. There was no barrier up so if one was too drunk, they'd end up in the lake and over the years quite a few did.)
There was a few houses on the left and right-hand side of the road as we made our way to the main street. A large new-looking house on the right was the Police Station and next to that was the towns' jail which as all run by Sargent Montgomery. As we drove past the jail to the first intersection, Burt turned right, down the main street. He drove to the end of the street, which was only about 150 yards long, turned the old Comby around before we got too close to the lake and then headed back up the other side of the street to angle park, nose into the curb.
He turned to Kay and said, "Lake Cargelligo, Missus. Don’t spend too much 'cause it's hard to make. I'm off to the pub to cash a cheque so I can pay him his wages. Ya can show him the Main street if ya like. I'll meet ya here in 10 minutes Missus."
It was a really hot day so I got out of Burts' Comby as soon as I could. I'd put too much Brylcream on mi hair and it was slowly running down the back of mi neck.
"Is mi shirt dirty?", I said to Kay.
"Dirties not the word for it! It's more like muddy. You've got too much hair oil on and it's run all down ya back. Give me ya hanky and I'll clean it up for ya."
"Thanks Mrs. Booth. I'll know not to put so much on next time."
Old Kay was not a bad old sort at times. She was probably stuck with Burt herself, 'cause no one got a divorce in the Bush in those days.
"Let's take a walk up the Main street, Richard.", she said.
"Are there anymore streets?"
"No, Lake Cargelligo isn't a real big place. Theres' only one main street and where we stooped at the end of the intersection is where the shops stop, so it's about one short block long."
We walked up the street a few yards from the pub where we'd parked and outside of the Stock & Station Agents, she spoke to a young lad who looked about 19 years old.
"Hello Robbie.", she said.
"G'day Mrs. Booth. In town shopping are ya?"
"Just came in for a few supplies. This is Richard. He's working at our place."
"G'day mate. My name's Robbie Townsend. What's yours?"
"Richard Swindells, but some people call me 'Yorky'."
"Ya from Yorkshire are ya?"
"Yes,", I said.
"Pleased to meet ya mate.", he said, as we shook hands.
"I'm going into Chamens for some things. Ya can hang out here with Robbie, if ya like Richard."
"Alright.", I said, as she walked off.
"How long ya been out at old Burts' place.", He said, with a smile.
"Just a month now."
"Ya just got here from England, mate?"
"Yeh, I've been here for about 6 weeks now."
"D'ya like it out at old Burts' place?"
"No!", I said. "I think he's a mean old bastard!"
Robbie had a real good laugh at this statement.
"Ya not the first one to say that mate. Old Burt's gone through a few Pommies in his his day."
"What d'ya mean?"
"How much does he pay ya a week, Yorky?"
"Twelve pounds a month, plus tucker.", I said.
"Jesus! That's less than 3 quid a week clear!"
"Where do you work, Robbie?'
"This place, mate. The Stock & Station Agents. Mi old man owns it so I work for him."
"How much a week do you make, Robbie?"
"Fifteen quid a week mate and I pay a couple of quid to mi mum for tucker. We'll have to find you another job, Yorky. No one stays with old Burt too long, I've seen heaps of Pommies come and go through Burts' place, If ya still in town tonight, I'll introduce ya to Surry."
"He's a Pommy, same as you mate. He's been here a couple of years now. He got sent to Burts' place, just like you. He lasted the longest so far. I think he worked for old Burt for about 9 months, mate."
"Where's he working now?"
"Oh he's on another property about 20 miles out. I think he's sharecropping now. He should make a few quid this year but he'll probably drink it all."
"Does he drink much?"
"He holds the record at the Australian Hotel for drinkin' a yard of beer. Here's old Kay coming back now. I'll see ya later Yorky. I'm gonna' shoot through before she gets here."
Robbie took off back inside his Dads' Agency just as old Kay walked up.
"How did you like Robbie?", she asked.
"He seems like a good bloke but I don't know him very well."
"I've known Robbie since he was a little boy. He was born in Lake Cargelligo. I've got some more shopping to do so you'd might as well look around the town, if you want. The van will be parked here all day and we'll probably stay in town tonight till about 10."
"OK, I'll see ya later.", I said as I waked off down the street.
Going down towards the Lake was a pub. (This pub was known to everyone as 'Twitchys'.) Past Twitchys' place was a couple of small shops, then a hairdressers for women. The next shop was Chamens Garage. After Chamens was a couople of houses, then nothing at all but dry, flat ground. Sometimes the lake used to flood in wet weather right up to the Bitumen at the streets end. Across the other side of the street was a tool shop, a few more houses and another pub called The Australian Hotel. Next to that was a dirt street, then came Ray Orrs Barber Shop. The Barbers shop was of great interest to me because in the window there was fishing rods, knives and guns. I decided to go into Orrs shop and inquire about a rifle. Ray Orr was cutting a customers hair when I entered the small, but compact, shop. It was a typical Bush barbers shop. There was just about everything one could think of hanging of hanging on the walls or stacked in he corner.
"G'day." He said, as I entered the shop. "Something I can get ya?"
"No thanks, just browsing around."
"Where are ya from mate?", he asked as I walked around.
"I'm working at Burt Booths place."
"Ah, ya must be Burts' new Pommy are ya?"
"I guess so."
"Old Burt's due in here today sometime. He gets his hair cut once a month, regular as clockwork."
"How much are the .22s'?"
"Oh they start at 8 pounds.", he said, as he handed me a rifle. "She's a single-shot Anshultz. Just got it in last week."
"Burt won't let me have a rifle on his place, but as soon as I get another job I'll come in and buy one off ya."
"No worries mate. Make ya self at home. I can even give ya a haircut, if ya want one."
"Maybe next time.", I said, as I looked around his shop.
When I was through looking, I said "Thanks a lot."
"No worries mate. Anything I can do for ya, let me know."
Next to the Barbers was a Dry Cleaners which was also owned by Ray Orr. Next to that was Rodds Clothes shop. Then came a Café, another Stock Agents called Dalgerys and then The Commonwealth Bank.
Now I was back at the intersection where we'd turned into the main street. Across the street, on the same side, was a Picture House and a Coffee Bar belonging to old Theo. There were a couple of vacant blocks, then another pub called Gilltraps. Next to Gilltraps Hotel was a residential street and way up the Main Street was another Garage. (Oh, the Post Office was next to Twitchys' Pub and, as far as I can remember, that was about it except for Chamens Store on the opposite side of the street. Oh yeh, there was also one more Bank next to Chamens.)
As you can see, Lake Cargelligo was quite a small place in 1964. Once I'd made mi rounds of the Main Street there was nothing else to do but hang out under a shady tree, down by the Lake.
The most common form of entertainment at Lake Cargelligo was, of course, the 3 Hotels. The double doors were wide open when I passed by and I could see that the place was packed with Cockies and workers. All were drinking and most were reading the race page or listening to the Saturday afternoon races.
Later on that evening I met Surry who was sat on the Hotel steps, drinking with Robbie Townsend.
"G'day. This is mi mate Surry that I was telling ya about."
"Hello.", I said, as I leaned over to shake his hand.
"This is Yorky, Surry. He'ls out slaving at old Burts' place."
"G'day Yorky. Surry's the name and Surry's where I'm from. So ya out at old Burts' property are ya?"
"Does the old Bastard feed ya parrots and kangaroo steaks?"
"How d'ya know""
Robbie and Surry had a good laugh at my expense.
" 'Cause the old Bastard fed me the same!" said Surry. "Tll I wised up a bit. Just refuse to eat those fuckin' parrots, mate. You'll break ya teeth on those tough bastards!"
"He said everyone eats roos and parrots in the Bush.", I said.
"Then he's a fuckin' liar. He's a miserable old bastard is Burt and his brother Dick is worse! Dick is so tight he doesn't eat strawberry jam."
"Why? Is it expensive in Australia?"
They both laughed ot loud.
"No mate, ya silly pommy bastard! He doesn't eat strawberry jam 'cause he's too tight to pass the seeds!"
"Now that's fucking tight!", said Robbie and they had another good laugh.
"Old Kay's not a bad sort though.", said Surry. "There's a young Sheila around here the doctors said would never walk again, on account of an accident, but old Kay worked on her legs for one year and now she can walk again. She's pretty good at that therapeutic massage. I hurt mi back one day out at Burts' place. I fell off the Combine with a 180 pound wheat bag on mi back and I couldn't hardly move and she fixed it up inside a week."
Surry told me a lot of stories about Burt, most of them bad. By the time I left them I was now more determined to get off his place and work somewhere else.
As I was leaving, he called out to me.
"Good luck mate, you're gonna need it!", then laughed his head off again.
Surry turned out to be a reasonable friend. He was quite tall and had blonde, curly hair and was a ladies man, that's if he didn't get too grogged up.
After I left Surry and Robbie on the Hotel steps, I ran into Burt and Kay up the street aways.
"How d'ya like the town?", said Burt.
"It's not real big but I've met a few people already."
"Ya won't have to get to know people here. They'll all get to know you."
"Grand Streuth!, said Burt. "There's a fight! Let's go and see."
Across the street on Chamens corner was a crowd of black people rolling around the ground in rags, as pissed as parrots.
"Who are those blokes, Burt?", I said.
"They're all Abos , mate. It's Saturday night and they're full of Plonk. We'll get to see a real good show now. That is, till old Sargent Montgomery arrives."
"I thought Aborigines carried spears and boomerangs?"
"Not these blokes. These bastards are half white. All they carry is a bottle of Plonk.", he said, as I followed him up to the opposite corner.
"Plonk's a cheap brown Muscat wine. It costs 4 bob for a half-gallon flagon. They go crazy with a gut full a' Plonk in 'em. Here we go mate, she's on now!"
I felt really compassionate towards the Aboringines as they called each other 'black bastards' and rolled around on the street corner drinking and fighting with each other. Their clothes were old, dirty and tattered. One had a shirt with a sleeve torn off and another had on a pair of odd shoes with no socks. Another had on a pair of trousers with holes in the knees. Another had no shirt at all. Even the women were getting into the fight now and they could curse and swear better than the men. Some of the Abo women were twice as big as their men and they could fight better as well.
The fight lasted for about 10 minutes until Sargent Montgomery arrived in his blue Bullwagon with a young constable.
"Alright you black bastards!", said the Sargent. "In the wagon ya go! Ya can sober up and cool off in the cell for the evening."
The Sarg and his Constable grabbed the drunk Abos by anything they could and literally threw them in the back of the Bullwagon. He left the women and took all the men up the street to the local jail.
"Ah well, that's the excitement over Saturday night.", said Burt.
"What will happen to them now?", I asked.
"They'll sleep on the concrete floor for the night and in the morning the old Sarg will make 'em weed his garden 'cause they'll have no money for the fine. The old Sarg has the best-kept garden in Lake Cargelligo. He knows all those Bungs by their first names by now and by the time Sunday night comes, they'll all be back in jail again."
"Why doesn't someone help them?"
"Can't help the bastards, mate. They're all past helping. Everyone of 'em is an alcoholic. They spend every bit of their money on Plonk and they won't work again till there's no money left. Even then, they won't work until they're hungry."
That, unfortunately, was my first introduction to the Australian Aborigines. Before we went back out to the Bush, one of 'em bit me for 2 bob and I couldn't refuse him, although I knew he would spend it on Plonk.
That night, I lay on mi bed thinking about the Aborigines. It made my heart incredibly sad to see what a tragic state they were in. Most people, in the Bush, saw them as not much better than dogs.