Friday, August 29, 2008

LEARNING TO SHEAR (part 2) ©

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After smoko, the three of us went down to the shearing shed and we filled the shed up with the big, rough, woolly mongrel-bred wethers. As soon as everything was ready Burt started the Briggs & Stratton motor. He pressed the govenor down and swung the handle on the large fly wheel. The engine popped and backfired a few times, then spit out a cloud of blue smoke from the exhaust pipes and slowly came to life. After the engine was warmed up, Burt put the wide, long belt over the shiny pulley, which drove the long shaft and the shearing shed rattled into life. The rotten floorboards vibrated and the tin on the side of the shed shook as the engine cranked away.
Burt now stood at one of the shearing stands. He stripped down to his pants and singlet and tied some string just below the knees of his thick ex-army pants for a bo-yang. Then he picked up one of the ancient handpieces which were aptly named 'hot boxes'. (Some shearers call them 'bog-eyes' because they resemble a bog-eyed lizard.) He put a 3-pronged cutter in place and after that he screwed a comb down on top, screwed down the tension knob and put a good squirt of black sump oil over the comb and cutter; then pushed the ferell on the down pipe and pulled the bog-eye into gear for a test run. CLUNK! ZZZZZZZZZZZ. The counterweight swung over when Burt pulled the string and the handpiece was now running. He screwed down the tension knob a couple more clicks before he was satisfied it would cut. He pulled it out of gear and said to me,
"Go grab me a sheep, we'd best git started!"
I opened the pen gate which was held on by some fencing wire and went inside to grab one of the wethers. As soon as I tried to turn it over, the saffron thistles stuck in mi finger ends. I pulled my hand back quickly and removed the long thistle.
"What's the matter with ya now?" said Burt.
"The wool's full of thistles!"
" 'course it fuckin' is! They've been running in a thistle paddock for a couple of months. You'll get used to it in a few days. Anyways, how are ya gonna learn to shear 'em if ya can't stand a few burrs in ya hands!"
Fat Bill, who was lazily leaning on a broom, started to laugh at me when I tried to get another wether over on its back.
"What are ya doing mate?" he said. "Trying to fuck it? Ya need a good strong pair of gum boots for that and I just happen to have your size in the back of mi Ute"
"Fuck you Bill!", I said, as I dragged the old burry wether out of the pen.
Old Bill nearly fell over with laughter at my comment.
"Oh that was a good laugh mate. I've never heard an accent like that for years. Say it again Richard!"
"Fuck you Bill!" I said as Burt took the front legs of the sheep.
Bill roared with laughter again as Burt pulled the string and the bug-eye jumped into gear. It took Burt about 10 minutes to shear the big, flyblown wether and as he was shearing it, I was thinking to miself, 'I could do that miself! I could probably do a better job than Burt and when I get off his place, one day I'm going to shear sheep for a living.'
After the sheep was shorn, old Burt straightened his black and then shoved the sheep out the porthole into the 'counting-out' pen. Next, he showed me how to grab the fleece and throw it on the sorting table where bill was waiting to skirt it.
"After you've thrown it on the table, sweep up the board and get me another sheep", said Burt.
After he had shorn 10 or 15 sheep, I said to him,
"Hey Burt, can I have a go at shearing?"
"Ya can finish this one off for me when I get on the last side."
As soon as Burt had shorn the sheep to the last shoulder just below the leg, he pulled the string and the bug-eye stopped running.
"Here ya go mate.", he said as he handed me the handpiece. "Ya stick him between ya legs like that, bend over him and push down hard on the shoulder with ya left hand. Start from there and run the handpiece on the skin down to his flank. The next blow is supposed to start from here and run it down out to his toe and be careful not to hock him 'cause if ya hamstring him he's dog tucker! Are ya ready?
"Ready!" I said.
The hot box handpiece was red hot when old Burt handed it to me but I was determined not to complain. Burt pulled the string and the handpiece flew into gear. The dirt in the wool had blunted the comb and cutter and the tension on the handpiece was so tight it made it want to twist and spin out of mi hand. I put the comb on the skin and slowly pushed it forwards. The downtube swung around and the comb dug into the skin as I pushed it down towards the flank.
"Keep it in the wool!"
By now there was blue oil smoke bellowing out of the comb and cutter.
"Keep it on the skin and cutting wool, then it will stay cool!",said Burt, as I struggled to control the bog-eye.
By now, the rough-looking wether had worked out that this was my first go at shearing so just to make it interesting for me, he complicated matters worse that they already were by trying to kick my head off.
"Sit down, ya bastard!" I said, as I tried to keep the hot machine down on the skin but the sheep never took any notice, he kept right on kicking.
"Ya gotta keep the bottom tooth on the skin, mate, if ya wanna make a good, clean shearer!"
It took me, at least, 20 minutes to finish off the wether. The sweat was now pouring out of me as I bent over him. When I eventually finished shearing him, he looked like a lawnmower had attacked him. There were nicks and cuts all over his back leg and pieces of half-cut wool stuck out all over him. My hand was burned to a blister from the hot bog-eye and my back already had a sharp, crampy pain just above mi bum.
"Is that good enough Burt?"
"Grand streuth mate! It looks as though ya plucked him! Give 'im to me and I'll clean him up for ya."
Burt took the sheep and the bog-eye from me and finished cleaning up the old, wrinkly wether. He pulled the string out of gear and the bog-eye stopped. Then he kicked the sheep down the chute and said to me,
"Stop the engine. That'll do us for today. We'll make an early start on 'em tomorrow."
"That job is a lot harder than it looks!" I said to Burt.
"Sure is mate. I'm not much of a shearer but ya should see some of those blokes who live in town. There's one bloke - Johnny Bunt. He shore 250 one day out at Merri Merrigal. He'a a real fair-dinkum gun shearer, only problem is he likes his grog too much. They tell me, in town, that he shore over 200 for 2 weeks and at the end of the shed he was in debt to the contractor for 50 quid."
"What did he do with all that money?"
"He pissed it up against the wall, mate and blew the rest on the horses and cards."
"One day, I'm going to be a gun shearer."
"It takes a lot of balls to be a gun shearer and yours are no way big enough to take on that job yet."
"Don't you worry. One day I'll be twice as fast as you are."
"That'll be the fucking day a pommy bastard like you can run rings around me!" he said as fat Bill laughed his head off.


Being true to my word, I started shearing when I was 16 - ½. The best tally I ever shore in Australia was 230 on narrow gear and the best tally I ever shore in New Zealand was 375 in crossbred Romney ewes in 7 - ½ hours.
"In case your listening Burt, pommy bastard or not, eat ya words mate!"
18 years I shore sheep just to prove that old bastard wrong! It would probably take me another 18 years to tell what I had to go through, but nothing appears as it truly is and that's another story! The life of a shearer prepared me for the hardest task I've ever had to face, so like it or not, I have a lot to thank old Burt Booth for. He never let me down, he kept right on being his miserable old self.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

SELLING MI HARLEY ©

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With the 50 bucks I made prizefighting that weekend I bought myself an old 1947 ex-army Harley Davidson motorbike. I got it from Gary Breaney who had purchased it from a farmer that had purchased it from a company in Sydney which dealt in ex-army surplus.

Anyone who saw me on that old Harley would take an instant bet with his mate about the longevity of my young life.

In the time that I had him, I only fell off twice and luckily for me that happened to be in the mud doing 25 miles an hour. Still, having a bike that size fall on one’s leg was not a very pleasant experience.

I decided to sell the old bike so I put the word out around Giltraps’ Hotel that I wanted 80 bucks for him. A few days later a bloke called Harry Plunkett knocked on mi hotel door.

“How ya going Harry?”, I said as I opened the door.
“Gooday Yorky. I came to see about the old Harley ya’ got for sale.”
“Come in mate and sit down.”
“How much ya’ want for the old bike, mate?”
“80 bucks and he’s yours, Harry.”
“No worries mate”, he said as he pulled out his wallet and peeled of four 20s’ from a large wad of bills.
As I handed the rego papers to him I said,
“Have ya ever ridden a Harley before?”
“Yeah, hundreds of times mate. I used to ride ‘em in the army.”
“Alright, no worries mate. Then you’ll know about the advance and retard spark for easier starting, eh?”
“Yeah. Just show me where it is mate, that’s all.”

We walked down the passageway and out onto the main street. I showed Harry how to retard the spark which made it much easier to kick-start the big, old bike.

“If ya don’t retard the spark, Harry, it’s got so much compression it will kick like a bloody horse, so don’t forget mate.”
“No worries Yorky. I’ve ridden thousands of these old bangers.”

I threw mi leg over the bike and turned the key and screwed back the spark. It still took all of my weight kicking down on the kick-start before the old bike would fire up.
Once he was merrily popping away I got off and handed it over to Harry.

“Good luck mate and be careful on him, he’s a bloody big bike.”
“No worries!” said Harry as he pulled out from the curb, just missing a passing car.
“Be careful!”, I yelled out to him but my voice was drowned out by the sound of the slow-popping exhaust.

Sometime towards the end of the week, I was in Giltraps’ watching the news on the barroom TV that sat on a shelf, high up on the wall so it couldn’t get busted in the fights that took place at various times. Halfway through the news a wheat cocky walked in and ordered a middy. After he sat down with his beer he said to me,
“Hey Yorky, did’ya sell your old Harley to Harry Plunkett?
“Yeah mate. Why?”
“I thought ya’ must have ‘cause I just saw him start it up at the garage over the road. He must have forgotten to retard the spark on it ‘cause when he jumped down on the kick pedal from the side, it threw him over the handle-bars and it still didn’t start.”

A few days later another bloke said he saw Harry go straight through the neighbors corrugated tin fence without even losing his hat.

I never saw Harry much after he’d bought the bike and sometimes I wondered if he was still around or riding through the clouds on an ‘Astral’ Harley.

MI OLD PAN-HEAD HARLEY ©

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One morning Arthur Auberry came into the Café.

“G’day Yorky . I heard you were back, mate.”
“G’day Arthur, sorry about not giving ya any notice.”
“No worries Yorky. I didn’t have too much more work for ya anyway.”
“Oh that’s good to know. I felt real bad for a while for just leaving like that without telling ya.”
“Don’t worry about it. When ya coming out to pick up ya old panhead Harley?”
“Ya mean to say ya not gonna keep it on me?”
“Why should I do that? It’s your bike mate. Ya next payment’s not due till the end of the month. You were 4 payments ahead when ya left the lake.”
“Oh shit, that’s great! I’ve still got some wheels.”
“If ya can’t afford to pay for it I’ll buy it back from ya.”
“Thanks for the offer Arthur but I’ll be able to pay it off easy now seeing as the rain’s come. There’ll be a lot of tractor driving around next week so I’ll do a lot of hours and pay it all off at once.”
“Anyway ya like. It’s still in the same place as ya left it. Come and pick it up whenever ya like.”
Good on ya Arthur. You’re a good bloke. I’ll give ya a call before I come.”

The following week I picked up the old Harley. As I hadn’t ridden it for months, it took a few miles to get used to it again especially on the corrugated corners of the dirt roads. I was quite happy when I reached the stretch of tar-sealed road into Lake Cargelligo Township.

I swung into the driveway of mi mates house, He was sitting on the back veranda when I pulled up.
“G’day Yorky. How ya going mate?”
“Not bad Gary. What ya doing?”
“Not too much mate. The Lake’s a dead place on Saturday afternoon.”
“Are ya up for a bit of fun?”
“Doin’ what?”
“Let’s go for a ride on the old Harley.”
“Where to?”
“Just out along the Condo Road. We can try out mi new gun!”
“What gun? I don’t see no rifle?”
“It’s under mi shirt!”
“What d’ya mean?” he said, looking somewhat confused.
“It’s here.” I said as I lifted the front of mi shirt.
“Where d’ya git that from Yorky?”
“I just made it.”
“Give us a look at it.”
“Not here mate! If ya mother sees it she won’t be too happy about it!”
“All right mate, let’s go!”
“Back soon!” he called out to his mother as I started the bike.
“Jump on mate! We’re outa’ here.”

Out of his driveway and left up the main street we rode. Off the bitumen and onto the main Condo dirt road we flew in a cloud or red dust.

“There’s a Cockys’ paddock up ahead”, screamed Gary, over my shoulder. “I know him. He wont mind us going in for a shot!”

Once the large steel gate was opened and closed, I gave Gary the pistol.

“Shit Yorky, this is a real beauty! Ya did a pretty good job on cutting it down. Ya got any bullets?”
“Yeah. Here, I bought a box off Skippy this morning.”

The Cockys’ paddock was not too densely covered with Malley but we would have to be careful ‘cause there were lots of dead trees, low hanging branches and sharp, pointy stumps.

“All right mate, load her up but don’t cock it till we see something. It’s only accurate at about 15 or 20 feet. Once we see something, pull the pin back and hold the gun up in the air. That way we won’t have an accident!”

I put mi old Harley into first gear and we pulled away slowly from the gate.

“There should be a few ‘roos out in the middle where those shade trees are so we’ll head out that way!”

The paddock was rougher than it looked so I had to be careful not to get a stick caught in the spokes or puncture a tire.

We’d been riding around for about 45 minutes when Gary called out,
“There’s a mob of emus over near the fence.”
“I can see ‘em.” I said. “We’ll ride across the paddock and down the fence. That way they’ll run down parallel with it. If we chase ‘em from here they’ll stick their heads down and crash through the fence!”
“Let’s go!” said Gary. “They’ve heard us talking!”

Once we got level with the fence again I called out to him,

“Hang on tight mate, here we go!!”

I reversed the Harley through the gears into 3rd and the Speedo was touching 40 now. ‘Clunk’, down into 4th it went and I opened the throttle full up. The fence posts were whizzing past now as we rode like hell along the one-lane bush track. There were some large, sharp rocks sticking out in places so I had to keep a good eye out for them.
The Emus were now going flat out down the fence line as I expected. They were running in line, one after each other and their massive, strong legs pounded the dirt tracks and their huge, scaly feet kicked up small stones behind them.

“We’re gainin’ on ‘em!”, screamed Gary, over my shoulder.
“Put your right arm over my shoulder mate but keep the pistol well in front of me ‘cause I don’t want deafening!” I yelled with mi head half-turned.

The old Harley was now flat as a strap and the needle was bouncing between 50 and 55.

“Don’t shoot till I tell ya mate. Wait till they’re off to the side!”

We were now only 50 feet behind and gaining on them fast.

“All right mate! Let ‘em have it!”

BOOM! Gary let fly with the pistol and a flame about 12” long shot out of the barrel.
BOOM! He reloaded from the bullets he was carrying in his mouth. The emus pulled out all the stops now! A few seconds later and we were right up the arse of a big, cranky emu.

“Not yet mate, he’s too close. If he falls over we’ll go right over the top of him!”

BOOM! Gary didn’t listen to me and he hit the big, grizzly emu with the next shot. The emu fell arse overhead in front of us. There was no time to veer off so I slammed on the breaks in a cloud of dust. The next thing I knew we were both flying over the handlebars.

“Oh Shit!” I roared as we landed on top of the pissed-off emu.

All I remember was feathers and dust as we tried to scramble away from the emu. One good kick from him we would have been dead! The emu had somewhat regained his feet and his head and neck were through the fence as he kicked like hell to get his huge, strong body on the other side.

Mi good bike was over on its’ side and the motor was revving like hell. Gary was trying to regain his feet as I saw the emus legs kicking frantically towards mi bike now.

“Get the bike out the way or he’ll kick the shit out of it!” I screamed.

We scrambled over to the bike and pulled it back out of range of his massive kicks before he could smash it to pieces.

“Where’s the pistol?” I yelled as I limped back out of range myself.
“I dunno, it flew out of mi hand when we hit him.” He said.
“He’s getting away!” I said as the big, old emu scrambled through the fence.

A couple more big kicks and the emu was back up on his feet. His black, beady eyes were now wide open as he took one last look around at us and then tore off across a ploughed paddock kicking up patches of dust as he went.

“That was pretty fucking close Gary. We almost got killed! Why the hell did you blast him?”
“I didn’t mean to Yorky, mi finger was resting on the trigger when we shot over that lump of hard dirt in the middle of the track.”
“Oh shit, just look at mi bike! The front wheel’s buckled where he kicked it and the logo
on the side of he petrol tank has been knocked off!”
“Don’t worry mate. I know Manny at Shamens garage. I’ll get him to order a new wheel and he’ll stick the logo back on. A bit of touchup paint on the tank and it will be as good as new.”
“Look at mi good strides! The knees torn clean out and there’s blood running out of mi kneecap! I’ve knocked all the skin off of it!”
“Look at mi elbows and mi hands are tore up from the gravel!”

The old emu was now out of sight so I started up the bike and we rode slowly back to the Lake with the front wheel going ‘rub, rub, rub, rub, rub, rub…….’

THE DUNNY HOLE ©

On Sunday morning I went into the bar to look for some work. Someone I knew introduced me to a real beaut, a young bloke called Kenny Calton. We got on well together right from the word go.

“Where ya working, Yorky?” he asked.
“Nowhere yet Kenny. I’ve just finished tractor driving out at Roger Toms’ place.”
“Why don’t ya git a job roustabouting in the shearing sheds?”
“I’d love that but I don’t know how to go about it.”
“It’s easy, mate. I’ll introduce ya to a few of the local contractors and ya can take it from there.”
“How did you learn to shear, Mate?”
“Mi old man’s a shearer, he taught me. I’ve been going out in the sheds with him since I was a kid.”
“Is it hard work?”
“Well, it’s not easy but once ya git the blows down and git fit, then it depends on how hard ya wanna work.”
“What’s the money like?”
“If ya git in good sheep ya can make a good, few bob.”
“What’s the going rate?”
“Eighteen bucks a hundred.”
“How many can you shear a day, Kenny.”
“Oh about 120-130.”
“Shit! That’s big money.”
“Yeah”, he said. If ya can keep ya self in work it is.”
I left the bar for a while to go for a feed and when I came back Kenny was still sat on the same stool, a few middies worse for wear.
Kenny was a short nuggety bloke, clean-cut and well-dressed. He had short, straight hair and a somewhat chubby face. His arms were quite big from dragging sheep. The knuckles on both his hands were big and swollen as most shearers hands are. I noticed his arms were covered in scratches and burr marks from the saffron thistles that were all over the sheeps' fleece. When I walked over to him, he said in a somewhat slurred voice, “ya see that bloke over the other side of the bar, Yorky?”
“Yeah.”
“His name’s Don Freeman. Go and see him, mate. Tell him ya looking for a job roust-abouting.”
When I went over to where he was sitting, I waited for him to finish talking to his mate.
“G’day.”, I said.
“G’day mate, what can I do for ya?”
“I’m looking for some work in the sheds. Kenny Calton said ya might have some.”
“Kenny sent ya over did he?”
“Yeah.”, I said.
“I haven’t got anything going for a couple of days but I can give ya some work down at mi house till we start, if ya like.”
“That sounds great!”
“Hang on a minute till I finish mi beer.”
Don Freeman was a tall, lanky bloke. He had wavy hair, a gaunt face and a husky, muffled voice which came from a broken nose.
He downed his 7 ounce and said, “What’s ya name?”
“Yorky.”
“A chummy, eh? Can ya work, mate? Ya don’t look too fucking big to me!”
“Don’t let the size fool ya.”, I said.
“Alright mate, let’s go.”
“Where we off to?” I asked, as we walked out of Twitcheys, down the main street towards the Lake.
“Down to my joint. It’s just down at the end of the street.”
When we got inside of his backyard he said, “I want to put a big septic tank over here so I need a hole digging. D’ya think ya can do that?”
“How big a hole d’ya want?”
“I’ll show ya.”
He walked over to a wheel barrow and took out a string line and two pegs. He stuck one peg in the ground and then unraveled the string. When the string was straight, he tied the steel peg on and then walked around with the peg scratching the hard ground as he went. Once the circle was complete he said, “That’s about nine foot across and it’s gotta be seven foot deep. Ya think ya can dig it by hand?”
“No worries, mate.”
“How long will it take ya?”
“Probably all day.”
“One day?”,he said. “That’s all? That’s a fucking big hole mate! There’s a lot of digging there!”
“Yeah! About one days’ worth.”
“Shit! I doubt whether an Aussie could dig that in two days, let alone a chummy in one!”
“One day, mate.”, I said.
“Alright chummy, the job’s yours! How much is it gonna cost me?”
“Tell ya what, Don. You don’t think I can do it in one day and ya said it would take an Aussie two days. At a dollar an hour, that’s 16 bucks for two eight hour days. I’ll make ya a deal. If you promise to give me a job as a roustabout as soon as you’ve got work, I’ll dig the hole for ten bucks and I’ll finish it within the day.”
“You’re on chummy!”, he said with a smile. “Ya can start in the sheds with me on Wednesday, that’s if ya finish the septic hole in time. I won’t be here tomorrow so I’ll leave the pick, shovel and the crowbar in that wheelbarrow over there. Alright chummy?”
“Alright Donny.”, I said, with a big smile. “Be careful ya don’t fall in it if ya come home full!”, I joked.
“I’ll believe it when I see it!”
I was up the next morning, bright and early. I had a bit of breakfast at the Hotel before I set off. As I walked down the empty street towards Dons’ place, I was thinking what it would be like to work in the shearing sheds. I’d always wanted to learn shearing ever since I had a go at it at old Burts’ place.
When I walked through the small gate and down the dirt path, I decided to put everything out of my mind except the big job that was ahead of me!
It was still pretty cool as the sun was not yet above the horizon. I stood in the rough, untidy side-yard contemplating what was the best and easiest way to go about digging the septic tank hole. After a few minutes it became obvious to me that there was no easy way to dig it. The only way it was going to get done was to start digging! The steel peg and string line that Donny had used to mark the large circle was still in the same place so I remarked the circle making the line deeper as I walked around. Once this task was complete I grabbed hold of the shovel, put the end of it on the ground where the center hole was and stomped on the edge with mi old work-boot. The shovel sank into the ground all of two inches.
‘Oh shit!’ I thought. ‘This is going to be a lot tougher going than I thought it would be!’
Then I picked up the long, fat crowbar. The end of it was in not too bad a shape, so I decided to start loosening the ground in a small circular motion, starting from the middle again. The crowbar sank in the hard ground about four inches each time I raised it above my shoulders and drove it downwards with great force. Very consistently, I enlarged the shallow hole until I reached the outer line of the nine foot circle. I took a few minutes breather, then shoveled the loose dirt and shale rock out of the hole. Once this was done I surveyed the work, still wondering if there was an easier way to do it.
Pictures of jackhammers kept floating across the minds’ eye but there was no chance of aquiring one so I dismissed them as soon as they arose. Next, I decided to have a go with the pick that Donny had left. I started in the middle again and applied the same principle. I made a small hole, then enlarged it as I moved around. Sometimes the pick would hit a hard rock and the vibration of the blow would send the corresponding vibration shattering up my arms.
Once I reached the outside circle again I cleaned out the loose dirt and surveyed the now, little bit deeper hole. A minutes rest and I started from the center again. No easier way of digging would come to mind so once that became clear to me I threw myself into the job with a great deal of determination!
As the morning wore on, the large hole got slowly deeper. The hot sun was now beginning to rise in the sky. Sweat was starting to pour out of my forehead and a gentle breeze blew the fine red dust over my face! By noontime, I was halfway there! The large hole was three and a half feet deep and the sides were perfectly straight.
I took a rest for half an hour to eat a couple of sandwiches I’d got from the Hotel kitchen. After a smoke, I jumped down into the hole to start the afternoons’ session. It was much harder now as the sun was really hot! It must have been 115 degrees down in the hole.
The ground was not getting any softer and the dirt had to be thrown up in the air and over the side so it didn’t roll back in on top of me. By 7 O’clock that evening, the hole was seven feet deep and nine feet wide. The sides were as straight as a die!
“G’day.”, said Donny as he peered down into the hole. “Grand streuth chummy, ya finished it mate!”
“Right on seven feet!”, I said as I looked up at him from down in the hole.
“You’re a bloody little beauty chummy! I didn’t think ya stood a mongrel dogs’ chance of finishing that today!”
“I told ya I could do it. Good-looking hole, mate eh?”
“Not bad chummy. It’s a pity we’re gonna fill it with shit! How ya gonna git out ‘a the hole?”, he said, with a big grin.
“Give us a pull up mate or I’ll be here all night.”
Once I got out of the hole, I said to him “So I’ve got a job in the sheds with ya now, mate?”
“Tell ya what, Chummy, ya can work in the sheds with me anytime I’ve got work. Any man who can dig a hole that big and deep in one day is good enough for me, sport. You’re a better man than most of those lazy bastards that sit around the bar all day. They ask me for a job and I take ‘em out and they’re too crook from the grog to do any good!”
“Will ya teach me to shear, mate?”
“If I get time I will and if not one of the other blokes will!”
Although I was knackered from the days work, the thought of working in the sheds and learning to shear put a shit-eating grin on my face for the rest of the evening.
A couple of days later I saw Don in Twitcheys bar.
“Ya got a start tomorrow if ya want it, chummy!”
“ ‘Course I want it! What time will ya pick me up?”
“Be ready at six. I’ll pick ya up on mi way past.”
“How many days will ya have for me?”
“Two days this week then we’ll start on a new shed next week. It should go for three weeks.”

Monday, August 25, 2008

LEARNING TO SHEAR (part 1) ©

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After milking was over, I took the milk across to the butter-shed. The butter shed was a small, well-built shed about 6-foot square. It was covered in, at each side, by mosquito wire. Sometimes old Burt used to hang a freshly-butchered wether in the butter-shed while it set. That way the blowflies couldn’t get at it.
I poured the milk through a strainer and then put the milk into the stainless-steel churn. I started to crank the high-geared handle. After a while, the skimmed milk came out of a spout and the fresh butter stayed inside the churn.
I always fed the skim milk to Burts’ ‘children’, as I called them. They were actually small, black piglets. Even the piglets had a hard time in the Bush. If the old sow gave birth to them outside, the crows would come sweeping down for the afterbirth and many-a-time the crows were not content with that so they’d peck off a newborn pigs’ tail which left the piglet with a small, upturned stump. As the piglets grew so did the level of torture because now the pig had no tail to swish so the bush and blowflies could sit on his arse all day with no interruption. Every now and again old Burt would douse their arses with sheep-dip. The sheep-dip kept the maggots at bay, which in turn made the pigs life a bit more tolerable. If anyone in the Bush tells you they’re ‘living a pigs life’, you know for sure he’s got flies around his arse. Hence the old Bush saying, ‘There’s no flies on me, mate!’ ‘Yeah, but ya can see where the bastards have been.’
When I took the plate of raw butter into Kays’ kitchen everyone was sat around the table, laughing and joking. This surprised me a bit ‘cause there was not usually too many jokes in old Burt. Kay took the butter from me and said,
“This is Bill and Madge Spence, Richard. They’ll be staying on the property for a week.”
“Nice to meet ya.” I said in mi new Aussie accent I was just starting to develop.
“G’day.” They said, as they looked me over, staring for too long at the tattoos on mi now brown arms.
“Where d’ya git those tattoos?” said Bill.
“From Rex Stoker in Bradford.”
“Oh, I know Bradford.” Said fat Madge, as she crammed a piece of fresh toast into her face. “My sister lives there. She’s been there for years. Me and Bill are from South Hampton. We’ve been out here for 17 years now.”
“18!” said Bill, as he sucked, disgustingly, on the bone of a lamb chop.
“Jesus!” said Burt. “I’m outnumbered here. I’m on only ‘fair-dinkum’ Aussie in mi own house. I’m surrounded by a bunch of bloody pommies.”
“You’re not a black fellow.” said Bill. “They’re the only fair-dinkum Aussies in Australia, Burt.”
“Suppose you’re right, technically speaking, Bill…but I was born and raised in the Bush and I work hard for a living, not like those ‘lazy bastards’. So as far as I’m concerned, I’m a fair-dinkum Aussie and it’s my land now!”
They all had a good laugh at that. Then Kay said to me,
“Sit yourself down Richard and have some breakfast.”
“Yeh”, said Burt. “You’d better have a good breakfast this morning ‘cause after breakfast we’re going up the paddock to bring the sheep in. I noticed the other day a few fly-blown weathers in ‘em, so we’ll have to shear ‘em and stick a bit of tar on ‘em.”
“Oh great!”, I said. “I’ve only ever seen sheep-shearing on the telly in England. Maybe I can have a go at it, Burt?”
“Ya can have a go but it’s the hardest job in Australia, mate. I doubt whether you’d even be able to git the belly wool off a’ one.”
“Can you shear Burt?”, I said.
“Yeh, but I’m not real fast at it ‘cause I don’t get enough practice. You’ve gotta have a heart as big as a football and a brain the size of a split pea to make a good shearer.”
“Do ya wanna’ hand today Burt?”, said Bill, whose plate now held 3 naked bones. They had been sucked dry by old Bill, who was now sat back slurping down another cuppa of hot, black billy tea. ‘The dogs will not be too pleased when they get those bones’, I thought. ‘He’s eaten the grisel as well!’
“Yeh, if ya like Bill. ‘Course I can’t pay ya mate but I can always use another hand.”
“She’ll be right Burt. It’ll give me a chance to work off a bit of a’ weight. I seem to pile it on these days, probably ‘cause I sit around so much driving all over the Bush. Maybe Madge here might like to give us a hand, eh Madge?”, said Bill, as he gave her a bit of a dig in her spare tires with his elbow.
“Don’t you worry about me Bill Spence, just look after ya own spare tires and I’ll look after mine, alright?” she said in mock anger.
“Streuth you two, no need to fight over who’s gonna work with me.”, said Burt, having a bit of a laugh to himself ‘cause he’d cracked one of his little jokes.
‘Maybe he knows he’s hard to work with.’ I thought, as I stared at his bushy eyebrows and his slit eyes.
“I’m pretty easy to git along with at work.”, said Burt. “So, if ya likes’ ya can both work with me. We’ll git the job done faster.”
“No thanks.”, said fat Madge. I don’t mind eating sheep but that’s as far as it goes.”
They all had a good laugh over this. Maybe I’m missing the joke here ‘cause I can’t see anything to laugh about, working with hard, old Burt.
After breakfast, me and Burt took off up the paddock with his two black- barb dogs to muster up the sheep. The sheep were scattered all over one of his Bush paddocks and it took the dogs quite a while to round up the big, rough, woolly wethers.
(A wether is a male sheep that has no balls. The Cocky cuts ‘em out so all the sheeps’ strength goes into growing super-fine Merino wool.)
Once the dogs had rounded up as many sheep as they could find, we started on our way back to the house-paddock where the shearing-shed stood. On the way back Burts’ old dogs saw a mob of Roos and decided to chase them. Old Burt had a shit-fit when the dogs ran off and left us to look after the mob of sheep.
“Come here, ya black bastards!” roared Burt. “Git over here ya useless fucking bastards!”
The dogs paid no attention to Burt, whatsoever, so we had to wait for them to come back before we could move on.
“That’s what fucking happens when I let ‘em go Roo hunting! The bastards git lazy. They’d sooner chase Roos than work sheep!”
When the dogs got back, old Burt gave ‘em a real good hiding with a leafy stick.
“Look at the black bastards!, said Burt. “They’re not worth a portion of urine now! They’re rooted from chasing bloody Roos, in the hot sun!”
The two dogs were now laid under a shady tree with their tongues hanging out, having a breather and catching a new breath.
“I’ll shoot ya next time!” yelled Burt at his two dogs who still lay there, panting and heaving.
We waited in the shade of a Gum tree for a while. Then old Burt roared,
“Alright you pair a’ bastards, go back! Go back Rover, you black, lazy bastard! Fetch ‘em up Darkie, ya useless, stupid bastard! I could do a better job myself if I had a couple more legs!”
Next, he turned and had a piece of me,
“And you, ya useless pommy bastard, don’t just stand there looking…open the fucking gate! What d’ya expect ‘em to do, jump over?”
‘Fuck you Burt!’, I said under mi breath.
“What did you you say?” he roared as he came towards me.
“Nothing Burt.”, I said as I ran for the gate.
“Open both sides!”, he roared. “That’s why there’s 2 gates! You’re as dumb as those two fucking dogs, ya pommy bastard!”
At long last and a lot of cursing later, the sheep were now in the yards and old Burt started to settle back down again.
“Let’s go and have a quick cuppa’. We’ll fetch Bill back down to the yards. He can give us a hand. It’ll make it a lot easier.”
When we got back to the house, old Burt was as cool-as-a-cucumber again.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

MY PAL JOEY ©

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Peter Smith came back out to old Burts' place to see me. He pulled up in Burts' yard one evening and jumped out of his blue Ute.
"G'day Yorky.", he said, as he walked around the back of the Ute.
"G'day Peter. How're you going?"
"Good mate. I brought ya something."
He leaned over the side of the Ute and pulled out a large wheat bag that was tied with a lump of bailing twine.
"What's in the bag Peter?"
"Open her up and have a 'butchers' mate, but be clever."
He handed me the large sack and immediately whatever was inside started to move around.
"What's inside Peter?"
"Open the bastard up mate, if ya wanna know."
I undid the bow which kept the bag shut tight and when I peered down inside it, I saw a young joey kangaroo.
"It's a joey Pete!"
"Yeh mate. I thought ya might like it. It'll be a bit of company for ya. Ya just have to feed it a bottle of boiled milk morning and night but don't be surprised if it dies on ya 'cause they're a bit hard to raise most times."
"Where am I gonna put it?"
"Come on inside ya hut. I'll show ya how to do it mate."
When we got inside the tin hut, Peter opened the bag and stuck his hand inside and then pulled the young joey out of the bag by its' tail. It was quite scared of being out in the light so it started to kick and make a clicking sound.
"Stick him up ya jumper mate. He'll quieten down then."
The young joey crawled up under mi jumper, back into the dark and was quiet as a mouse again, once he made himself comfortable under mi armpit.
"Ya leave the top of the bag tied like this mate, then ya hang it on a nail. This one over here will do. Next, ya cut a slit along the bag, like so. Then it resembles its mothers' pouch. That's it. That'll do mate."
"How do I feed it Peter?"
"Ya git old Kay to boil up a small amount of milk and then ya put it in a bottle and ya put a small amount of burnt cinder powder in it. That'll stop him from getting the scowers. Ya put the rubber teet on the end and the first couple of times you'll have to hold him and force it in his mouth but as soon as he knows the bottle's full of warm milk he'll hold the bottle himself with his hands and feed himself. We'll go over and see old Kay. She used to have a pet too but it got too big and cranky so she let him go. She'll be glad to give ya a hand looking after it. It'll remind her of the time she got her first pet roo, mate.", he said, with a knowing, cheeky wink.
Peter was no mug. When Kay Booth saw the joey she was more than happy to help so old Burt couldn't say a word about it. Kay proceeded to tell us all about her pet roo which took about half an hour and when Peter and I got back to mi shed he said,
"I told ya sport. She's on our side now. Better to have old Kay as a friend. It'll make ya life a bit easier out here. How's things going anyway, Yorky?"
I told Peter about old Burt doing his nut and chasing me with the axe.
"Gawd Streuth mate! We've gotta git ya out of this place while ya still in one piece! I've got a place in mind for ya to go but the bloke is still waiting for a contract to come through and as soon as it does, ya outa' here. I'd take ya back to my place tonight but there's no room and there's no work so I can't do that. Ya think ya can hang on at this place for a while longer?"
"Yeh, I'll be alright. He's been a bit better since he chased me with the axe but I don't like old Burt. He's as miserable as chickenshit."
"Ya not wrong there mate and you're not the only one who thinks that. Anyway mate, I'll be back to see ya again soon so look after ya self Yorky and don't let the bastard git ya down, alright?"
"Alright mate. Thanks for the joey and thanks for looking out for me."
"No worries mate. I'd do the same for a white feller."
"Oh that's a good joke Peter. I'll save that one for old Burt one day."
After Peter left, Mrs. Booth came over with a bottle of milk with a lambs teet on the end of it.
"Do you want to see if he's hungry Richard?"
"Yeh, let's try him. They shot his mother along with the rest of the mob so he's probably a bit hungry now and he won't feel so frightened once he gets some warm milk into him."
The young joey kicked and scratched as he tried to get away from me when I took him out of his new pouch.
"Hold him firm while I get the teet in his mouth.", said Kay.
Once the joey tasted the warm cows milk, he started to settle down until he had finished three-quarters of the bottle. Then he pissed on mi trousers and started to struggle again so I put him back in the old wheat-bag pouch. As soon as he saw the tear across the front of the bag he hopped in headfirst and rolled over on his back then curled himself into a tight ball and went to sleep.
After a week or so, joey could get out of the bag himself. He could sit right up on his back legs and tail. Already he had learned to hold the bottle himself. He looked so sweet as he sat on the floor of mi hut feeding himself and looking around.
Sometimes at night I'd put him in mi bed but one night he pissed all over the sheets so sleeping in the bed with me was now out of bounds to him. Another week and he could hop up on the bed himself but he could not distinguish between the bed and the old dressing table so many a time he would hop up on the table and knock the photos and mi other knick-knacks all over the place. One night when he saw his reflection in the mirror he tried to kick it to death and almost cracked the mirror.
Joey was a lot of fun. Peter was right, it made staying at old Burts' place a bit more tolerable but life being what it is, it soon took joey away from me.
One cold morning at about 4 O'clock, I woke up with a start for some unknown reason. I switched on the one light bulb. Nothing seemed out of place but something did not feel right. Joey was sat in his pouch with his head out of the slit in the bag. His big black eyes were staring across at me.
"Put ya head back in mate, it's a cold morning.", I said but he never moved. "Git back in the pouch where it's warm, joey, or you'll git cold."
I got out of bed and walked across the cold oil-cloth to where joeys' bag was hanging. When I touched his furry head he was as stiff as a board and at once I knew he was dead.
"Oh fuck! Why did you have to go and die just when we were having a good time together?"
When I tried to get joey out of the bag pouch, I saw the reason for his death. A loose strand of bag had gotten twisted around his neck as he got back in his pouch, head first and as soon as he tried to turn around, the piece of frayed string had tightened around his throat and choked him. I had a good cry to myself as I cut the string from around his neck and pulled his stiff little body out of the bag.
Before breakfast, I showed old Kay what had happened and she was also quite upset about it. When Burt found out he said,
"They're pretty hard to raise. If they don't get the scowers they git a cold and if it's not any of those two things, it's something else."
"What do I do with him now Burt? Shall I bury him somewhere?"
"Na mate, just chuck his body to the pigs. It's no good to him now so the pigs may as well eat it. Everything has some use in the bush, mate. We''ll all end up as tucker for something one of these days."
For once, I could see that old Burt was right. Joey could no longer use a dead roos' body, so I hardened my heart and threw the dead body into the pigs pen and walked away.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

IN THE MALI ©

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Old Burt started to roar again when he realized I'd outrun him, which under the circumstances was not surprising.
"Ya pommy bastard! I'll fucking split ya in two when I get a good swing at ya!"
I did not waste my breath trying to answer him because my heart and head were pounding with pain as the breath came in loud raspy gasps. The next second, mi right boot hit hard ground as I threw misen headlong through the dense scrub. Some of the thorny bushes ripped mi shirt and tore at my bare arms but it made no difference whatsoever. I slowed down very little as I pushed the low hanging branches out of mi way.
"Come back here ya useless pommy bastard!", Burt roared from the edge of the Mali where he'd finally given up the chase.
I was in such a state of fear and dread that I even pissed misen a little bit but I pressed on into the Bush till I felt like I was safe, away from Burt.
"You'll have to come out of the scrub before the day's out mate and when ya do, I'll git ya!"
My breathing was still deep and raspy so I just crouched behind a wattle bush and watched old Burt rant and rave from a safe distance.
'Now what do I do?', I thought. 'If I stay in the scrub I'll more than likely die of thirst.' By now I was really dry and thirsty. 'If I go back to the Mali Paddock old Burt will kill me!'
The only thing left for me to do now as to have a good old cry then I could think straight again and maybe I could work out how I was going to get myself out of the bind I was now in.
I spent about 2 hours in the scrub watching old Burt in the distance as he wailed away with the axe at an old box-tree stump. It would be dark soon enough and old Burt would hop in the Ute, with his dogs in the back and leave me in the Bush on mi own all night with no food or water.
Thirsty as I was, I had no intention of coming out of the Mali. I could probably survive for another day with no water if I kept still but I would not survive for 24 seconds with an axe sticking out of mi head!
Finally, the sun went down and old Burt made his way back over to where I was hiding,
"Ya better come out now mate. It's time to go home."
"Fuck you Burt! You're gonna kill me with that axe!"
"I've cooled down now. I'm sorry about that."
Now, I was close to tears again when Burt said he was sorry because I now knew he was a sick man and not in full control of his faculties.
"Come on Richard, let's forget all about it. Ya can even smoke while ya work, long as ya don't slack off."
'Ya promise ya won't kill me if I come out?", I yelled at him.
"Alright, I promise I'll not hurt ya mate. Come on, hurry up or the missus will get worried about us being late."
He sounded his normal, miserable self now so I decided to walk out of the scrub. When I got a few feet away from him he said,
"Ya wanna go to a tennis match with me on Sunday arvo?"
"Alright.", I said.
"There'll be some boys ya own age there. You'll have a good time with 'em."
We walked off across the paddock together, back to his Ute. On the way home we never spoke a word to each other and when we got back to the house Kay came out and said.
"Where have you two been? Ya late! I was worried about ya. We're having rabbit stew for dinner tonight and after we'll have some homemade ice cream."
The next time I went to town, I happened to tell someone about Burt chasing me with the axe and before long, bush towns being what they are, the story was all over town. To this day, it is well known around Lake Cargelligo that Yorky, the new Chumi from Yorkshire, was the only bloke ever to outrun old Burt Booth, off the football field.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

BILL DEFOE ©

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At around 12 O’clock on the 23rd of April, the Big Brother Movement sent a large, single-decker coach to pick up all of us boys with the exception of Liverpool Bob who did not want to be sent out to the Bush to work. It was decided that he would work in Sydney as a mechanic so the Big Brother Movement could keep a good eye on him until he reached the age of 18. After 18 the BBM would no longer assume responsibility for any of us boys. I never really saw any of the BBM Directors so it felt like we were on our own, after they found us our first job in the Bush.

All of our suitcases were loaded on the coach and the drivers headed out for the Suburbs to a small place called Cabramatta. On the outskirts of Cabramatta was a Dairy Farm which the BBM owned. That was to be our new home until we were able to get our first Bush job. The training farm was a very beautiful place which was surrounded by lush green fields. The large coach drove through a big double gate and up a dirt track road to the large Nissan hut where our quarters were. A couple of big Australian men were waiting to help us out with our cases and gear as the coach came to a halt.

Once everyones’ gear was in the large barrack-type hut, I layed down on a wire-framed bed and took a bit of a breather. I had not been layed down very long before a big, booming voice rang out,
“All right you pommy bastards, get off those bunks and lets see what type of fucking rabble they’ve sent me this time. Line up at the bottom of ya’ beds! My name is Bill Defoe.”, he said as he strode down the hut.
He stopped in front of one boy and said,“Jesus fucking christ, you sure are an ugly little bastard, son. What’s your fucking handle?”
“Mi names Morris.”, said the boy.
“Is your father an ugly little bastard like you?”
“Mi father’s dead.”, said Morris.
“Just as fucking well!”, said Defoe. “He’d have had a fucking heart attack looking at you, sunshine.”
Walking down the line he stopped at another boy.
“What’s your fucking handle?”
“Dave.”
“Can you work, Dave?”
“I’ve been working for two years.”, said Dave.
“I’ll bet you wouldn’t work in an iron lung, ya big pufta! Who curls ya fucking hair now ya sisters not around?”
“No one, It’s natural.”, said Dave.
When Defoe got level with were I was standing he took one look at me and said,
“Gawd love a fucking duck! You should be still at home on your mothers tits. Who the fucking hell sent a little fucking worm like you out here!”
“The BBM.”, I said.
“Do you know how to wank yourself off yet, lad?”
“Yes.”, I said as mi face went bright red and all the boys started to laugh.
“Does spunk fly out of the end of your dick or are you still pumping air?”
Everyone had a good laugh at that one.
I declined to answer that question and he said, “OK you pommy, fucking bastards, follow me and I’ll show you around the place.”

We all followed Defoe out of the hut and across the field to where the dairy parlour was. He showed us how everything worked, and as he went along, he attached jobs to every one. I was the only boy who never got a job and on the way back to the Nissen Hut he said to me, “Come here ya scrawny-assed little fucker. D’ya know what that building is?”
“No.”
“Well, that’s the cook house. You can helps Mrs. Blackwell to serve the meals and do the dishes .
“Alright.”
You can take some rest now and make fucking sure you’re all ready for work in the morning. Breakfast will be at 6 O’clock sharp! If you’re not out a’fucking bed, you’ll be in deep shit.”
Everyone breathed a sigh of relief when Defoe strode off across the paddock to the Administration building.
“Let’s go a get some rest before that big ugly bastard changes his mind!” said Dave.
We lay on our beds and tried to get a bit of rest because, for sure, Bill Defoe was going to make it quite hard for all of us. Most of the boys were asleep but I found it very difficult to rest. I decided to go for a walk, over to the milking parlour. When I walked out into the back yard it looked like it had never been cleaned out for months. There was cow shit 6 inches deep all over it.
Just then a voice said to me, ‘This yard looks very much like Spencers’ yard, but Spencer would never have a dirty yard like this one. Why don’t you grab that shovel and clean it all out.’
‘What a good idea.’, I thought. ‘It sounds as though I’m going to have a hard life over here so I’d might as well get started right now.”
I worked real hard, non-stop, till the whole yard had been shoveled clean. It took me four hours to do it. As soon as all the shit had been stacked on the old shit pile I hosed the yard down with water. By the time I had finished there were blisters on mi hands and fingers. When I looked around the yard it was as clean as a whistle.
I felt a great sense of accomplishment so I went back over to the Nisson hut and took a well-deserved lay down.
‘Now I can rest.’, I thought. ‘I’ve earned one!

OFF TO TOWN ©

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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.
"Dirty's 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."
"Who's 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 couple 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.)
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?"
"Yes."
"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 out 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.

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.
"What's Plonk?"
"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.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

OPEN WARFARE ©

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A few days later, while we were up in the mali paddock chopping up stumps and small trees, Old Burt was in a foul mood.
"Be careful with that axe handle! You've already put a couple of nicks in it!"
"I'm being as careful as I can be Burt. I can't do anymore than my best!"
"You're a useless bastard that's why! Not only are ya a useless bastard, you're a useless pommy bastard!"
"What about you Burt? Let's talk about you for a change!"
"What about me?", he said in an angry, defensive way.
"Well, it seems really funny to me, 'cause we're really very much alike, you and I."
"What d'ya mean by that?"
"You think I'm a useless pommy bastard right?"
"Right first time mate!"
"And I think you're a useless Aussie bastard!"
"WHAT!", he roared. "What did you say?"
"You heard me."
By this time old Burt had steam hissing out of his big hairy ears. He gave the tree a big blow with his axe and all of a sudden, without warning, the axe-head broke off the handle.
"Grand streuth! Fuck me pink! That's your fault, ya pommy bastard!"
Now he was really pissed so he pulled a long piece of bailing string out of his pocket and tried to bind the handle back together again.
"Here, give me your axe. This broken handled one is good enough for a pommy!"
The first time I swung the axe, a big splinter tore a hole in mi right hand first finger.
"Shit!", I cursed out loud.
"Now what's the matter with the windging pommy?"
"There's nothing wrong with me. You're the one who broke the axe-handle!"
"You trying to tell me I'm a useless bastard, are ya?"
"Yeh! You're as useless as you say I am."
"alright ya pommy fucking bastard. You tell me one thing that you can do better than me!"
After a couple of seconds, I said, "Alright Burt, I can play a trumpet much better than you can and you'll never be able to play a trumpet as long as your arsehole points to the ground mate!"
Burts' face went deep purple now and the veins in his neck were just about to pop. The sun was beating down really hot now and through the smoke and haze of the fires I could still make out Burts' distorted features.
"Ahhhhhhhhh!", he roared at the top of his voice. I'll fucking kill you ya pommy bastard!", he said as he lifted the large sharp bush axe above his head.
'Uh Oh!, I heard an inner voice say. 'Now you've really done it! You've pushed a big button this time! If I was in your boots I'd start running for my life, mate!'
I followed the command of the inner voice to the letter. As soon as Burt took one step in my direction, I took 10 fast steps in the opposite direction. Off I ran as fast as I could go towards the Bush which was about 100 yards away.
Have you ever been chased by a madman wielding an axe with the intent of burying the head of it into your head, up to the hilt? Well, let me tell you it is not a very pleasant experience! As I ran flat out across the soft Mali red dirt it was very hard to get some traction on mi boots. I ran around some of the smoking fires, hoping I would give him the slip in the gray, billowing Bush smoke but when I looked over my shoulder, he was gaining on me like a mad, hungry roo dog!
I jumped clean over one small fire and then over a couple of big old logs, looking over my shoulder very quickly. Again old Burt was still hot on mi tail. His slanty eyes were now wide open and bulging just like a big bullfrogs' and he had foam and saliva running out of the corners of his tightly stretched mouth.
Old Burt, although 60 years old, if a day, was one of the fasted men on Lake Cargelligos Aussie rules team. There was only one young bloke on the team who could outrun Burt. Faster and faster I ran across the paddock. I had a big pain in mi chest as mi breath was violently being sucked in and out. I only had about 20 yards to go now as I headed for the thickest part of the scrub I could see. I now knew how a big, old gray roo felt with an arse full of buckshot.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

THE VISITOR ©

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I was not happy at Burts' place and that week, to my surprise, I had a visitor whom I had never met before.
One weekday evening, after work, I was sat in mi room writing a letter home to mi mother when I heard the sound of a vehicle coming along the track. When I opened my door I saw a blue Holden Ute pull up in a cloud of dust outside Burts' garden fence.
The two dogs were barking and making a hell of a din. It was not long before old Burt came out to investigate. I saw him go up to the young stranger and shake hands with him and after a minute or so old Burt pointed to where I was standing.
The young man, who was quite well-dressed in elastic-sided riding boots and the usual Cockies type of clothing which was light fawn pants, belt and checkered bush shirt with an Akubra Squatters hat perched on his head, walked over to where I was standing. As he approached, he said in a thick Aussie accent,
"G'day sport. How are ya? My name's Peter Smith."
"Hello.", I said, as I shook his hand. "My name's Richard."
"Yeh, I know mate. Let's go for a walk sport. We'll be out of earshot of Old Burt then. Can't have him eavesdropping, can we sport?"
"No.", I said, with a tone of wonder in my voice as I had no idea whatsoever who this young man was and why he would want to speak with me.
Once we were down the track a-ways, he said "So, how d'ya like it in Australia so far mate?"
"I love Australia. But I'm not happy at this place."
"Why's that sport?"
I told Peter all about Burt and how hard on me he was.
"Ya don't have to tell me anymore mate. I was just checking. Old Burt will never change. He's a real hard old bastard. It's not the first time I've been out here and it probably won't be the last."
"Why are you so interested?"
"Oh sorry mate, I forgot to tell you. I'm from the old country misen. I've been out here 10 years now. I'm ya Big Brother, mate."
"What do you mean?"
"Well ya see, I came out here ten years ago with the Big Brother Movement and after I'd been here for 5 years they made me the Big Brother for all the new chums that they send out to this area, so it's my responsibility to make sure you're not getting ripped-off or abused mate."
"Can you get me another job somewhere else Peter?"
" I probably can mate but this is how it works see. Ya don't tell old Burt anything about our conversation 'cause if he knows I'm going to get ya another job, he won't let me on the property anymore, alright?"
"Alright Peter. Ya sure you can help me?"
"Course mate, I know everyone around these parts. Does he feed ya parrots and Kangaroo meat?"
"Yes,"
"I thought so mate. He's not changed any in all the years I've known him. You leave it to me sport. I'll have ya out of this place as soon as I can. You'll have to hang on for a couple of months till I line up a new job for ya. Can ya last that long?"
"If ya can get me out before then, I'll be alright. Just as long as I know you're gonna help me will make it more tolerable."
"Good on ya mate. How's Bill Defoe going? Is he still running the training farm out Liverpool way?"
"He sure is. I really like old Bill. He's a good, kind man."
"Were all good blokes in the Bush mate. There's just a few mongrol-bred bastards like old Burt and his brother but that keeps us on our toes mate. We'd have it too easy if not, eh mate."
"I suppose so.", I said,
"Alright sport, I'll be on mi way now so don't you go worrying yourself about a thing. Here's my phone number. If old Burt gives ya too much shit give us a call mate and I'll have a word with him."
By this time we were back alongside of Peters' blue Ute.
"How much did ya Ute cost Peter?"
"Five hundred pounds brand new. She's a beut, eh?"
"Yeh, she sure is a beut Peter. I would like to have a new Ute like that one day."
"No worries mate. You'll have one before ya know it. Ya rooted in the Bush without a good Ute 'cause it's too hot and dusty to walk and there's no such thing as buses out here. Not like the old Countr, eh mate?"
Peter hopped in his Ute, put it in first and spun the wheels in a cloud of red dust as he took off.
"See ya soon sport. Hang in there mate."
Now I was feeling more happy because I knew I had found a good friend, or should I say he found me. I finished mi letter then blew a few soft tunes on mi old trumpet which I didn't play much at all these days 'cause life had changed so much. The position I was in now would have been unimaginable a few short months ago.

A couple of months went by in the usual manner at Evergreen, (that was the name of Burts' property.) One day whilst we were Emu bobbing in the paddocks, (Emu bobbing is slang for picking up stumps), Burts' older brother Dick came over to see him. He was taller and more skinny than Burt was. The first thing I noticed was that he had bad asthma and could hardly breathe. The Bush pollens must have really gotten to him. Dick wore a one-piece green boiler suit, no matter how hot it was. It could be 115 degrees and Dick would still be in his boiler suit. In this case the suit was aptly named. Dick had a thin, hooky nose the same as Burt had and his face was sunken and gaunt-looking. Dicks' jackeroo, called Michael, had come over with him so while Burt and Dick talked to each other, Michael came over to see me.
"G'day sport. My name's Michael. Yours is Richard, isn't it?"
"Yes. How d'ya know?"
"I heard old Dick talkin' to Burt one night on the party line. Ya like the Bush mate?"
"Yeh, It's better than England."
"Anyplace is better than England mate. Why d'ya think so many pommies leave it?"
"You're probably right.", I said.
"Course I'm fucking right mate. Here, have a fag mate."
"Better not."
"Why? Don't ya smoke mate?"
"I do but if old Burt sees me smoking in working hours he said he'll dock some of mi pay."
"What!", Michael said. "The old Bastard can't do that. He's pulling the wool over ya eyes mate. He's just bunging it on. Tell him to go fuck himself! Here have a smoke sport, If old Burt says one word, I'll back ya up mate."
"Alright Michael. I'm just about sick of him telling me what to do, anyway."
"Good on ya mate. That's the way. Ya gotta stand up for ya rights in the Bush, 'cause if ya don’t, no other bastard will and as soon as Burt sees you're not gonna take anymore bullshit from him, he'll ease up a bit on ya."
"Is that your dog, Michael?"
"Ya, that's the bastard."
"What happened to his balls?"
"He kept wandering off the property looking for bitches on the next-door neighbours place. I told him what would happen if he didn't stop but he took no notice of me whatsoever. So one day, when we were marking lambs I put a rubber ring over his balls and a week or so later they fell off.
"Does he still go wandering off?"
"No mate. He never even thinks about bitches now and he's a much better worker. He keeps his mind on his job now, instead of his dick."
"Doesn't it hurt?"
"No, only if ya get the rubber ring caught on ya finger!"
This made me laugh mi head off and for the next half-hour we stood in the mali paddock telling each other jokes.
After Dick and Michael left, old Burt said,
"Come on, we've lost an hours work now. We'll have to work later tonight to catch up."
About an hour later, I stopped and rolled a Drum cigarette. As soon as Burt saw me smoking he said,
"Put that smoke out! Ya can't work and smoke at the same time."
"Fuck you Burt! I'm sick of you telling me what I can and can't do! You've got no right to tell me where and when not to smoke! If I hold the fag in mi mouth while I'm shoveling coals, how's that gonna affect mi work?"
"I said, put that smoke out!"
"Fuck you Burt."
"Alright, I'll call the BBM and get you deported back to England!"
"Call whoever you fucking like Burt 'cause I know you can't do that. I've been talking to some people in Lake Cargelligo and they told me you're full of shit! so fuck you!"
I lit up mi fag, picked up mi shovel and set about starting some new fires. Old Burt was no red-faced and cranky but he knew the game was up now. from then on, open warfare was silently declared.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

BURT BOOTH -2 ©

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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."
"Who's 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?"
"Yes."
"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.
"What's Plonk?"
"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.