Friday, October 31, 2008
One evening, at dinnertime, I asked Jazzer the cook if there was any more dinner. I had been working really hard and my appetite was growing.
"There's plenty left in the kitchen, Chummy. Help ya self mate."
I filled my plate as full again as the first round. When I got back into the dining room everyone joked about the amount of food on the plate.
Roy James said, "I think I'll have another plateful myself."
He came back into the dining room with a huge amount of food on his plate.
Freeman said to me, as a joke, "Hey Chummy, ya think ya can eat more than big Roy can?"
Just for the fun of it, I said, "Course I can. Anyday! Why?"
Gundy said to Freeman, "Here's 5 bucks that says he can!"
Freeman said, "Here's 5 bucks that says he can't!"
The other shearers and shed hands all placed their bets and the eating contest began. Roy and I took our places at opposite ends of the table. We stared at each other for a couple of seconds then started to eat our platefuls."
Gundy gave a running commentary as we ate. Speed was not a factor; volume was what bets were based on. Roy and I finished off our second plate of food; mashed potatoes, cabbage, carrots, mutton and gravy. After the third plateful we ran out of the main course. Then we started on the sweets! We ate a large bowl full of Apple Strudel each and then the bowls were filled up, ready to go again. Halfway through the second bowl, big Roy said, "Fuck this for a joke! The pommy bastard's too good for me! He must have hollow, fuckin' legs."
"Come on Chummy, you've gotta' finish that bowl to win!", said Freeman.
Very slowly, I finished off the bowl of Apple Strudel and then sat back in mi chair and relaxed. The winners of the contest collected their bets and then cheered.
"Are you full yet, Chummy?, asked Chummy.
As I sat there, I began to think, 'I don't want to have to do this again so I'd better seal up my win a bit safer.'
"Not really Gundy. I could eat a big, tasty bowl of cornflakes with milk and sugar."
No one believed I could eat another morsel so the bets were all on again. Freeman filled up a large bowl of cornflakes. I sat there and loosened mi belt. After stretching mi arms over the back of mi head, I slowly started on the cornflakes! The going was much slower now since big Roy had dropped out of the contest. 15 minutes later the bowl was clean!
The winnings were all collected and Gundy was all smiles as he helped me to my room. Strangely enough, I slept quite well that night and the following day it was like it never happened.
Monday, October 20, 2008
On Friday night, after the shed had finished, Don Freeman said to me, "We're starting a camping-out shed on Monday Chummy, so we'll be leaving the lake on Sunday, lunchtime. Make sure you've got enough gear for the week, including booze and fags 'cause we'll be way out in the bush, miles from nowhere."
"Where we going Don?"
"Down towards Hay, on the One Tree Plain. I contract that shed every year. We'll be there for roughly three weeks mate."
"OK mate, I'll be ready."
That evening, being Friday night and the end of a shed, Gundy was firing on all 8 cylinders already.
"Hey Chummy!", he yelled. "Come over and meet Cyclone. This is our pommy roustabout.", said Gundy to Cyclone. "This is Cyclone, chummy. He's a gun shearer!"
Cyclone was as bad, if not worse an alcoholic than Gundy. Once he had a few bucks in his pocket he would not shear another sheep until it was all gone. Cyclone, like Gundy, was a hell of a good-natured man but the booze had him. He was his worst enemy. Very seldom in the Bush will one man tell another man what he should do. Everyone figures that as soon as a boy starts to work, he's old enough to be his own master. 'cause for one thing, he's working and living in a mans' world.
When Sunday lunchtime arrived, Don Freeman picked up Boney and me, Gundy and Cyclone. We drove a long way down to the One Tree Plain. Boney and I had to sit in the back of the Ute 'cause there was no room in the front.
The back of the Ute was filled with stores for the cook. A section of the back was reserved for me and Boney, along with the cartons of beer and numerous flagons of Brown Muscatel wine.
Freemans' dogs had to balance on top of all the boxes. They almost fell out a couple of times as we sped along the Bush roads at 80 miles an hour. After a few hours of driving, we arrived at the shearing shed. There it was, a big, corrugated iron shed sat on wooden pylons out in the middle of nowhere!
The landscape was almost barren as far as the eye could see in all directions. The ground was hot and dry and every so often there was a clump of rough, dry bush grass. It was called the One Tree Plain because nowhere in sight could anyone point out a tree of any size or shape. It was so hot that numerous whirly winds chased each other round and round in circles as they sped across the barren land. There was nothing edible that Merino sheep could live on and how they survived had got me beat!
The yards were already full of big, rough-necked wethers and a few hundred were packed in under the shed in case of a freak rainstorm. Miles and miles off in the distance was a cloud of red dust. This was probably the Jackeroos mustering another large mob of sheep. It would take a full day to bring them in to the shed to wait for their turn for shearing.
The shearers' living quarters were about a hundred yards away form the shed so Freeman drove the Ute in that direction. There was no shade to park it in so it just stayed where it was stopped until it had been unloaded.
Most shearers quarters at camp-out sheds are pretty clean and have good mattresses and beds. The beds, are in most cases, two to a room. Boney and me selected a clean room at the end, before any of the other blokes arrived.
The Shearers Union, which is called the A.W.U. was very supportive towards the shearers. That's the reason the quarters were in such good shape. If it was left up to the Cocky, he wouldn't care if the shearer had to sleep on the floorboards because, by his reckoning, the quarters were only used once or twice a year at shearing and crutching time, so why bother to make them livable.
Each room had a small set of cupboards between the beds for our clothes. The one window had a fly screen to keep out he bush flies and mosquitoes. There were no fans to keep it cool and at nighttime it could be around 90 degrees in those tin rooms. There was no electricity so the two refrigerators in the kitchen ran on kerosene. Half of one fridge would be used o keep the beer cold and the rest of the grog would be wrapped in wet hessian bags and stuck under the floor outside. Whatever bit of breeze there was would keep the beer slightly cool but nowhere near cold.
Boney and I helped Don to cart the stores from the back of the Ute to the kitchen, After we'd finished, Boney said, "Come on Chummy, let's go over to the shearing shed and check it out mate!"
It was about 5 O'clock now and the heat was still stifling. Mirages of water appeared everywhere as we walked across the windy plain. The hot breeze made doing anything hard work so we took our time, laughing and joking as we walked.
We got to the big shed and walked up the steep wooden stairs, hanging onto the steel railing. I was in front, so I pushed open the small corrugated door and we went inside.
"Gaw'd fucking hell!" said Boney as we stood in the shed and looked around. "Just look at all that parrot shit on the floor! It'll take us two or three hours to clean up this mess!"
"Yeah. Just look up there Boney!"
The shearing shed rafters were packed tight with Galahs.
(A Galah is a grey and pink parrot about 9" high. They are very common around NSW and make an awful racket when they sit around on the trees. Bush people even call each other 'silly Galahs.'.)
As we walked around I said to Boney, "Why are they all hanging around in the shed, mate?"
" 'Cause there's no fucking trees around Chummy so they've taken over the shearing shed."
The shed had been closed for months on end so due to the heat inside and the layers of parrot shit all over the place the stink was awful.
"Fucking hell Chummy, we've got to get rid of these bloody Galahs and clean up this board before we can even start shearing."
"Yeah, it's a real mess Boney. How d'ya reckon we should go about it?"
"We'll kill as many of 'em as we can because if not they'll come back at nighttime and shit all over the place again."
"How we gonna' do that mate? If we shoot at 'em and miss, the bullets will put holes in the roof."
"Ya probably right Chummy. Give me a minute to think, mate."
There must have been at least 300 Galahs in the shed. Some were sitting while others were flying around and squawking like hell. As I looked around, there was shit on the floor, shit on the wool table, all over the wool press, the wool packs were covered in it and it was even in the wool stalls.
"Tell ya what we'll do Chummy. Let's take that full bale of wool and roll it over to that end of the shed."
After that was done, Boney said, "Alright mate, grab that end of the wool table and we'll carry it over to the opposite side."
As soon as the table was in place, he said, "Here Chummy, take this."
"What's the straw broom for?"
"It's not a fucking straw broom!" he said with a big grin on his face.
"It looks like a straw broom to me, mate."
"Use your imagination Chummy. It's a double-handed shuttle-cock racquet!"
"Where's the shuttle-cocks?"
"Up there stupid!" as he pointed to the Galahs.
"Now, I've got the picture mate! I'll use the table and you use the bale."
"That's the idea Chummy. You scare 'em down to my end for a while and I'll smash 'em with the broom. We'll take turns at batting. Let's see who can get the highest number."
He drew a line in the parrot shit and said, "That's your half and this is mine. We'll count up later."
I shooed all the Galahs down to Boneys' end of the shed and as they approached him, he swung the straw broom with a double back-hander.
'WHACK!' He knocked three Galahs out of the air in one blow. A double-handed forearm smash sent two more crashing to the floor.
"Alright Chummy, your turn.", he said as he giggled out loud. "I'll shoo 'em down to your end now mate. You take a couple of serves. The double-handed forearm smash seems to be a good point-scorer!"
As I stood on the table at the ready, the long-handled straw broom was over mi shoulder, cocked and ready to serve.
"Here they come Chummy!", yelled Boney.
Three hundred Galahs were now squawking like hell and flying straight for me. As soon as the live shuttle-cocks were in range, I let fly with a powerful over-head serve! One large Galah was knocked out of the air. An unconventional, two-handed upward reverse stroke sent two more to the deck. A clumsy double-handed sideswipe sent three more crashing through the ether!
"OK, your serve Boney!", I yelled, amidst the loud squawking.
I shooed the Galahs back down to Boneys' court. A well-aimed sideswipe sent three Galahs to bird heaven. A single-handed clumsy shot missed altogether and Boney fell off the big wood bale into a pile of Galah shit.
"Fault!", I shouted from my end as he slipped around in the white shit trying to scramble back up on the 'baseline' pack. Another mighty double-handed backhand sent three more Galahs to the deck.
"Alright Chummy, your serve!", yelled Boney as he shooed them back again.
After half-an-hour of strenuous badminton on center court we called 'Time-Out'
for a rest and cleanup. It wasn’t' too bad but Boney was covered in Galah shit and feathers as he walked up to me, smiling from ear to ear.
"We'll take a breather and swap ends Chummy. That wool pack is a bit hard to balance on. You've got the advantage on the table."
"Alright mate.", I said as we laughed. "We'll swap ends and play one more game and then we'll open the doors and chase the rest out. I don't think they'll come back in a hurry.
At the end of the game, we counted up the Galahs and then opened the two large doors. The remaining parrots flew out and were never seen again. It took Boney and me three hours to scrub the floor with hot, soapy water we'd boiled in the outside copper.
By this time all the other blokes had arrived. The cook made up some tucker and after dinner we sat around in our rooms reading, talking or playing cards. Gundy and a couple of the other shearers sat around drinking plonk till about 11 O'clock.
It was pretty hard to sleep that night 'cause it was so hot. We just lay on our backs sweating like hell, drifting in an out of sleep.
The following morning being Monday, everyone was up bright and early. Even Gundy didn't look too worse for wear. Breakfast was at 6 and Dons' brother Jazzer was doing the cooking. Jazzer was a few years younger than Don, which would have made him around 40. Don was a fairly handsome sort of bloke which was more than could be said for Jazzer! He was about 5'9" and a thick-set bloke. Most of his bulk was comprised of fat. He had a mop of black, curly hair and a pretty large beak for a nose and a ginormous set of choppers on him. His teeth would not have looked too bad had he have cultivated the habit of cleaning them. Instead, they were a greeny-yellow color. He had a habit of standing with his mouth open and the teeth could easily be seen protruding below his top lip. He was also quite a heavy smoker. He used to grip the ends of the tips in his large teeth. Have you ever seen a horse with its' lips peeled back as it chomps on the bit? Well, stick a fag in-between the horses teeth and there you have Jazzer!
As far as his cooking skills went, he was rated at half-a-star. Jazzer was also able to shear. When he pulled into gear his named changed to Jabber. (That's another story!)
After breakfast, we all made our way over to the shearing shed. As we entered the shed Gundy noticed a large pile of dead Galahs off to the side of the steps. When Boney related the game of Badminton, Gundy had to smile which was unusual for him at 6:45 in the morning.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
I was sat on the curb outside Twitcheys' at quarter to six waiting for the contractor. As I sat there wondering what shed life would be like, a car horn beeped and Don Freeman pulled into the curb.
"G'day Don.", I said as I jumped in.
"G'day Chummey. Hop in mate. we've gotta pick up the other blokes."
As I got in the front of the Falcon Sedan he said, "I hope Gundy's sober this morning. He was pissed as a chook yesterday. It took him a couple of hours to sober up. He only shore 15 sheep the first run."
"Isn't 15 sheep a lot to shear in one run?", I asked.
"That's nothin' for a shearer of Gundys' capabilities, Chummey. When Gundy's sober and he feels like working, I've seen him shear a couple of hundred in a day and not break out in a sweat. 'Course he's very rarely sober!"
We drove around Shamans corner where all the blackfellas hang out and there was a couple of them sitting on a bench, swigging on a half-gallon flagon of plonk.
"I don't know how those blokes do it!", said Don. "I've seen 'em sat there in the hot sun
all day getting' full on plonk."
"Where do they git the money from?", I asked,
"They get a government check every week and most of 'em spend the whole lot on cheap plonk."
We pulled into the curb again and a young bloke about my age hopped in the front beside me.
"G'day Freeman, how ya going mate?", he said.
"G'day Boney. D'ya know chummey?"
"I've heard of ya mate. Mi brother Kenny told me about ya."
"Good to meet ya Boney.", I said as we shook hands.
"How's Kenny doing?" asked Don.
Boney, who was a small, thin bloke with jet-black hair and a cheeky smile, said with a laugh, "He's fast asleep in the front seat of his car. He got full as a boot again last night. We drove home from Twitcheys' but he was too drunk to make it from the car to our front door.
"How long till she has the kid?", asked Donny.
"About a month, I think. I asked Kenny the same question and he said, 'what kid?"
Boney had a real good laugh over this little joke.
"This is gonna be Chummys' first day in the shed Boney so teach him all the ropes, eh mate."
"Ya haven't worked in the sheds before Chummy?"
"Only for half-a-day at old Burt Booths' place."
"They tell me old Burt's a bit of a hard man to work with.", said Donny.
"That's an understatement!", I said.
Everyone had a good laugh at that. Shearers and Roustabouts are always trying to take the piss out of each other, probably 'cause it makes the day go by easier and relieves the tension from the hard work.
The car pulled up in front of a weatherboard house and Donny Freeman honked on the horn. After a few minutes a bloke appeared at the door and called out, "Be right with ya!"
"Jesus!", said Don. "Old Gundy doesn't look too good to me this morning. I heard he was as full as a boot up at Giltraps bar last night."
"He doesn’t mind a drop now and then,", said Boney with a giggle.
"Ya not wrong there. It's a bit hard to say anything about it 'cause he's such a good shearer. Even when he's crook from the grog he's cleaner and faster than a lot of blokes."
The front door of Gundys' house opened and Gundy walked out. He looked a bit sick and unsteady on his feet as he walked over the dead, patchy grass of his front lawn.
Just before he got to the car, his old lady came running after him with a packet of fags in her hand. He took the fags from her and never said a word. As Gundy reached the back door of the car, he tripped over a crack in the cement and nearly crashed into the window.
"Open the back door for him Chummy before he hurts himself.", said Don.
Leaning mi arm over the back seat, I pulled up on the handle and pushed on the door. The door almost knocked Gundy over and he took a couple of steps backwards. Very carefully, he maneuvered round the open door and slowly got in the back of the Sedan.
"Ya tryin' to knock me arse over head?", said Gundy as he made himself comfortable.
"No, it was my fault for shoving the door so hard.", I said.
"What's your name?"
"What kind'a fucking name is that?", he said, with slurred speech.
"It's a nickname, 'cause I come from Yorkshire."
"Fucking hell!", said Gundy. "A pommy fucking bastard! What ya doin' in the sheds?"
"It's Chummys' first day. We're gonna teach him to roustabout.", said Don.
"Chummy eh! That's not a bad fuckin' name. I think I'll call ya Chummy from now on."
"Did'ya have a hard night at Giltraps, Gundy?", asked Boney.
"I sure fuckin' did mate. I never got home till 1 O'clock this morning and the missus was as cranky as hell with me. She made me sleep on the couch all night. She was still cranky when she woke me up this morning. Oh shit, mi head's not too good either. Hey Freeman."
"What d'ya want Gundy?"
"Can ya go a bit easier on those fucking corner mate? Mi brain's sloshing around in last nights grog!"
"How many are ya gonna shear today, if I slow down?", said Don in a joking way.
"How many did I shear yesterday?"
"A hundred and two."
"Alright, I'll shear 140 today. How's that?"
"Could you do 150, please?", said Don, taking the piss out of Gundy.
"You fucking contractors are never satisfied?", said Gundy as he pulled a fag out of his packet. "Give us a light Boney."
"I haven't got one Gundy."
"Here ya go Gundy.", I said as I flicked the lighter.
"Good on ya Chummy, ya pommy bastard. Me and you are gonna git on real well mate!"
Gundy was a very funny character. He was about 5'10" with dry, wavy hair. He had a bald spot in the middle of his head and the hair was starting to thin at the front. His eyes were blue and his broken nose shot off to the side at a very acute angle. He was dressed in the usual shearers' garb which was a cardigan, blue singlet with a reinforced patch on the left front side, double-legged, heavy duty blue denim shearers dungarees which helped, slightly, to keep the thistles out, woolly socks and shearers boots. The trousers were held up with an elastic belt made out of good-quality surgical elastic.
"Where's that fuckin' Athel Cook this morning, Freeman?" asked Gundy.
"We're gonna pick him up now. Suppose he was with ya at Giltraps' last night, was he?"
"Yeah. The bastard tried to miss out on buying a round before he left. He can be as tight as a fishes arse sometimes."
The car ground to a halt at the far-end of town and another shearer was sat on the curb, smoking a home-made. He was a thick-set bloke with a whiskery face. Not a very good-looking bloke at all. His thick, wavy hair was plastered down on his large head and he had a sweat towel around his neck like a scarf.
"G'day, ya fuckin' bastards.", he said as he got in the back beside Gundy.
"G'day.", said Don. "This is Chummy Athel. He's roustaboutin' for us today."
"G'day Athel.", I said as I leaned over to shake his hand.
"A fucking pommy bastard eh? I've never seen a good one yet!"
"This one's a fucking beaut, so go easy on him today Athel. It's his first day."
Don let the clutch out and the Sedan sped off out of town onto the dirt road heading for the Cockys' shearing shed.
"Have ya ever had ya balls tarred Chummy?" asked Athel as were were driving along.
"No. Why d'ya ask?"
" 'Cause that's what we do with first-time Rousies!"
"Not this time Athel.", said Don. "I told ya already, leave him alone mate!"
Athel Cook was not a pleasant character. He seemed to take an instant dislike to me.
As we were driving along, Boney leaned across and whispered, "Take no notice of Athel. He's a fucking yabo."
He must have had quite good ears 'cause he said to Boney, "What's that ya fuckin' say Boney?"
"Nothing mate.", said Boney with a giggle.
Athel leaned over and twisted Boneys' ear and Boney, small as he was, got really pissed at him.
"Keep ya fuckin' hands to ya self Athel or I'll fucking job ya one mate!"
"You and whose fucking army?"
"Just try it again, ya fucking yabo and I'll show ya!"
"Come on you blokes.", said Freeman. "Ya worse than a pack of mongrel shed dogs!"
"Yeah, that's right. You tell 'em Freeman.." said Gundy. "Give us another light Chummy.",he said with a twisted grin.
The rest of the drive to the shed was done in silence as we sped along the dirt track road at 70 miles an hour. Half an hour later we pulled off the main Rankin Springs road and turned into the Cockys' property. Boney jumped out and opened the gate, Once it was closed again, we drove up a narrow, winding bush track and stopped in front of a big, old, somewhat dilapidated shearing shed. There was another two shearers cars parked out front and the yards were chock-a-block full of unshorn sheep.
When we got inside the shed Don introduced me to all the other shearers and rousies and Boney filled me in on the 'board-boys' job.
Gundy was a really fair-dinkum bloke, even though he was a chronic drunk. I stood around and talked and joked with him as we waited for the bell to ring at 7:30.
In a four-stand shearing shed there are usually 4 shearers and one board-boy, a wool-classer, a rousie to help skirt the fleeces, a wool-presser whose job it is to press the wool into large bales and sometimes a 'penner-uppa'. His job is to keep the shed pens full. The contractors job is to grind up the combs and cutters, count the sheep out of each shearers outside the pen at the end of the run, which is 2 hours and make sure everything runs smoothly between the shed-hands and the farm-hands,
"Will ya teach me to shear, Gundy?", I asked.
"Oh, I might do Chummy. Lets see how you go at roustabouting' first mate. Maybe you won't like the shearing sheds!"
"I already like 'em and when I can shear I'll be working for miself. That's what I want to do."
"Alright Chummy. Look out mate the bells about to go!"
The bell rang right on 7:30. All the 4 shearers went through the pen gate to grab their first sheep. Gundy was the last to finish and when he let his sheep go down the shute, he straightened up and I noticed the look of pain on his face.
"Jesus, Chummy, It's going to be another hard day for me."
The board-boys job, which I was doing, could be pretty hard at times. I had to pick up the fleeces from 4 shearers and keep the shearing board swept clean of dags and loose pieces of wool. At the end of my first day I was pretty tired of running about so much but I knew, more than ever, I was going to learn shearing no matter what it took.
The shearers were always in a good mood on the way home from the sheds. They laugh and joked about the days work and talked about the first cold beer they were going to have at Giltraps Hotel when we hit town.
All the blokes from the shed drank at George Giltraps Hotel that evening, George Giltrap was a big man. He had shortish hair that was combed straight back with a touch of hair oil on it. His face was always pain-ridden from the amount of beer he drank. It was easy for him to drink 'cause he owned the Hotel. Sometimes he would start drinking at 5 in the morning and at 12 O'clock at night he would be still going strong. Although he was a heavy drinker he was not lazy. He always did his job behind the bar. He was a tall man with wide shoulders who always had a fag hanging out of the corner of his mouth as he pulled the beer. When he ash on the fag got too long he would simply to the side and blow down the cigarette. The ash would fly forwards and land on the tile floor. The barroom at Giltraps was an L-shaped room with a pool table in the far corner. The bar was always stocked with shorts and liquors of all types.
Giltraps was commonly known around town as the Blood House. It got it's name from the amount of fights that took place in the bar. The fights at Giltraps were usually conducted by the Abbos or in a lot of cases, a feud between the white fellas' and the black fellas'. There were many stories floating around town about those brawls. A lot of the local people were not too keen on drinking at Giltraps in case they got sucked into one of the evenings fights.
"Isn't Giltraps a rough house Gundy?", I asked as we walked up the front steps.
"She sure is Chummy but it's not as boring as those as those other two places mate."
Giltraps was packed to the max as we entered.
"Who's buying the first round?", said Gundy as we pushed our way to the bar.
"The first one's are on me.", said Don Freeman. "What'll you have men?"
Once the orders were taken by Don, he called Giltrap over, who was busy drinking in three different schools.
"What'll ya have Freeman?", asked Giltrap.
Don gave the order, including a 5-ounce beer for me.
"How old's the young bloke?", said Giltrap as he looked at me.
"Oh, that's Chummy.", said Don. "He's old enough. He's working out in the sheds with me now."
"Whatever you say Freeman but if he isn't and the old Sarg comes in, tell him to hide his beer or I'll git in the shit!"
Drinking grog was a part of the shearers world. It seemed to go with the job. Shearers lose gallons of sweat every day so they put it back in, of an evening, as fast as they can.
We all sat or stood around for the next three hours bull-shitting and making jokes; taking the piss out of each other and generally having a good old time.
The wool-presser at our shed was Roy James. Roy James was a big rough bloke who no one put shit on. He was about 6'4" and weighed about 280 pounds and not an ounce of fat anywhere on his body. Roy was a good bloke who had a big heart although he was not overburdened with brains. His hair was swept straight back and covered in lanolin from picking up big armfuls of wool. He had a big cauliflower ear and a nose that had been broken too numerous a time to remember. His good ear had a lobe missing. The jagged line that was left resembled a half-moon. He usually wore a blue singlet, stubby shorts and a pair of elastic-sided Williams riding boots, the flat-heeled type.
As the evening progressed and everyone got drunker, I found myself wondering what had happened to Roys' ear.
"Hey Roy, what happened to your ear-lobe mate?"
A few people standing around must have heard me ask the question because our end of the bar suddenly went very quiet. Roy casually downed his beer. The glass was not too visible in his huge calloused hand.
"What did you say, Chummy?"
He sort of turned side ways to glare at me.
"I was just wonderin' what happened to ya ear-lobe, Roy."
As he stared down at me, he said, "I've killed bigger men than you for askin' much less than that!"
"Alright Roy.", I said. "I didn't mean to be disrespectful to ya but what did happen to your ear-lobe?"
"I was in a fight at the Hotel in Bourke and a little bloke was takin' the piss out 'a me and as we struggled on the bar-room floor, he bit the end off mi ear and then spit it out."
"Why didn't you git it sewn back on?", I asked with great interest.
" 'Cause when the bloke spit out on the floor, the publican Jack Russell ran over and grabbed it and then swallowed it."
"Fuckin' hell Roy, did that hurt?"
"I was too drunk to feel a thing but I felt it next morning after I'd sobered up! Whose round is it?", he asked as the tension in the room started to dissipate.
Roy walked out to go to the toilet and while he was out, Freeman said, "I never knew that's what happened to his ear."
Gundy said, "You've got more guts than anyone else in this barroom Chummy. There isn't a man alive in Lake Cargelligo who's had the balls to ask Big Roy about his ear and he's been comin' to the Lake each shearing season for years now."
Everyone started to laugh as they joked with me.
"It's not that I've got guts.", I said to Gundy. "I knew there must have been quite a story behind his ear 'cause it caught my attention. So much so that I couldn't help but ask."
George Giltrap came around the bar to where we were all in a group and he said, "Here Chummy, have a middy. It's on the house, mate. That's the best bit 'a fun I had for ages."
Thursday, October 16, 2008
That evening, after a cold shower outside under a tree, we had a good feed and went to bed early. I was so tired that as soon as mi head hit the pillow I was engulfed with darkness. The next thing I remember was Jims' voice saying,
"Come on Yorky! Git out'a that fart sack mate. The sun will be up before ya if not!"
Jim and I worked at the fence every day, just about. The weather was getting hotter and hotter as the summer progressed.
One day, he said to me, "D'ya want some fried eggs for smoko, Yorky?"
"Yeh, but there's no electricity out here and it's far too dry to start a fire so how ya gonna make fried eggs?"
"Grab the shovel mate and wash it off with a little bit of water and then lay it out flat in the sun over there for a couple of hours."
When lunchtime came, Jim took 4 eggs out of the tucker box and said to me, "Go git the shovel Yorky. It should be hot enough by now."
The shovel had been laying out flat in the hot sun where I'd left it. I brought it over to where Jim was sat under a shady tree. He put some butter on the shovel and within seconds it started to melt. As soon as the butter had melted he said, "Put it back in the sun, mate and crack these 4 eggs into it."
I got the shock of mi life when the cold egg yolks hit the hot butter and started to crackle. Within 5 minutes the eggs were as good as any fried eggs I'd seen anywhere, although I broke the yolks while trying to get them out of the Bush frying pan. That frying pan had the longest handle I'd ever seen and it didn't need to be washed up after.
On another occasion, we were walking through the scrub looking for some more parrots nests. Jim spotted a used hole so he sent me up the tree. Surprisingly enough, it was not very high.
"It might be a Ring-Necks nest.", I said to Jim as I pulled miself up to the next branch.
When I got level with the hole I called out to Jim, "If it's a Ring-Neck it must have a sweet tooth!"
"Because I can smell honey in that hole!"
"Oh shit!", said Jim. "Get out of that tree Yorky. It's not a parrots nest. It's a beehive mate!!!"
I only needed telling once! I slid down the tree as fast as I could go and ripped the leg of mi trousers in the processs. I'd seen a few bees hovering around the tree when I went up but I didn't think anymore of it. No sooner were my feet on the ground, the bees started to fly out of the hole. They were really pissed now as they chased after Jim and me, who were by this time, tearing through the scrub like a couple of old gray roos with a pack of roo-dogs at their heels.
"Ow! They're on the back of my neck Jim."
"Just keep running Yorky! Don't wave ya arms around or you'll make 'em more cranky!"
"Yow!", I yelled again. "One just got me under the eye on mi cheek."
"Keep running Yorky! They're giving up now!"
After a few hundred yards Jim stopped and turned around.
"They've given up mate..", he said between laughs.
"What are you laughing at Jim? They stung mi neck at least 4 times and once on the cheek, see."
Jim apologized for laughing but the apology didn't stop his laughter as he said,
"A couple of them got me too Yorky. I can't help it mate. You sounded so funny when you said, 'the Ring-Neck must have a sweet tooth'. That's when I realized it was a beehive but it was too late then. They were already coming out of the hole. Give us a look at ya neck Yorky.", he said, still laughing away.
"It's not bloody funny!", I said, reverting back to my Yorkshire accent. This started him up laughing even louder.
"Stand still mate. You've got a couple of stings still sticking out of ya neck."
He used his bush penknife and his thumbnail to remove the two remaining stings. Then he looked around for a leaf to rub the back of mi neck and cheek with. After, he rubbed the back of his arm where he'd gotten stung.
The bee stings hurt for quite a while but as soon as the burning started to fade I could see the funny side of it myself.
"You're the Bushman, why don't we go back with the right gear and take the honeycombs out.", I said to Jim.
"Not on your life mate. I'm scared of bees and they always seem to pick up on my fear. I only went honey-gathering once. That was enough for me. It's easier to buy it at the store."
At the end of a long, hot day and getting towards the end of the fence contract, Jim said to me, "D'ya wanna go into town tomorrow with me Yorky?"
"Oh yea! That would be great Jim."
"Ya must have a good, few quid coming to ya now mate."
"I probably have Jim. We've been so busy I haven't had much time to think about money and even if I had, there's nowhere to spend it out here."
"Yeh mate, that's the beauty of the Bush. It doesn't cost as much money as living in town would. It costs ya money everytime ya stick ya head out a' the front door. If ya lived at the Lake."
"What time are we off tomorrow Jim?"
"Oh, I thought we'd go in pretty early mate before it gets too hot. I said I'd take the missus and kids in with me this time' cause she hasn't been to town for a couple of months now."
"Doesn't she like town life?"
"Na mate. She's a good sort is my missus. It works well for both of us. Neither one of us like to hang around the towns much. Anyway, Bush life is nice and peaceful mate. Just the way I like it."
"Maybe I'll by miself a good rifle tomorrow."
"Yeh mate, I'll help ya pick one out at the Barbers shop. He's got a few good pea-rifles. We might try a bit a' rabbit shooting if ya like Yorky."
"Oh yeah Jim, that would be real beaut."
"Yeh, the rifle will come in real handy then. We'll git a better chance at 'em with 2 rifles mate."
The following morning we all got up early. Jim, his wife Shirl and the 4 small kids all squashed into his old blue Holden ute. I sat in the back. We didn't take the old Bedford 'cause it was too dangerous with no brakes. The ride into town was a lot of fun as we tore along the dirt roads at 60 miles an hour. By the time we arrived I was covered in red dust but I was so happy to have a day off and the thought of getting mi first rifle made everything pale in comparison.
We all waited in the Ute while Jim went into Blackers. He was the Publican at the Australian Hotel. Jim knew him so he took a check there to cash it so we'd all have some money.
When he came out, he asked me how much money I wanted.
"Oh just pay for the rifle and a few quid for some Drum and Monopoles and you can save the rest for me 'cause I don't have any bank account."
"Alright Yorky, long as that suits ya. I don't have a bank account miself mate. I don't like handing my hard-earned money over to the bank. Ya never know when they'll go broke and I can look after mi own money better than they can."
Jim gave Shirley a fist full of money so she could by some supplies to take back with us.
"I'll meet ya back here Shirl. Yorky an me are gonna have a look at a few rifle. Come on mate, let's go."
We walked across the street to Ray Orrs Barber Shop. The sign read OPEN so we went straight in.
"G'day gentlemen.", said Ray Orr, who was sat in the barbers chair reading the local Lake Cargelligo paper (which was all of 4 pages wide.)
"G'day. How ya going?", said Jim.
"Real good. Ya got a new man I hear.", said Ray
"Sure have Ray. Best little worker around these parts."
"They tell me old Burt Booth has gotten himself a new Pommy out at his place." Said Ray.
"Good luck to him.", I said. "He can have it for all I care."
"Didn't ya like old Burt?", asked Ray.
"That's an understatement! Anyway, I've got a much better job now and I make a lot more money so I've come in to buy one of ya rifles."
"No problem mate. Which one are ya interested in then?"
"We'll have a look at all of 'em.", said Jim. "We'll be going spotlighting rabbits soon. She's getting too warm for fencing."
"Ya not wrong there mate.", said Ray.
We took a good half-hour looking through the rifles and finally settled on a 5-shot Anshultz.
"That's a real beaut rifle.", said Ray, as Jim looked down the sights. "Not too expensive either for a German-made rifle."
"How much is it Ray?". I asked.
"That one will set you back 9 pounds."
"I'll take it.", I said.
"Better git ya self some bullets for it as well Yorky, while you're at it.", said Jim.
"What type shall we get Jim?"
"Ya probably better off with hollow-points mate. They're a better bullet for what we're gonna use 'em for."
"They come 50 in a box.", said Ray. "How many boxes d'ya want?"
"Give Yorky 5 boxes and I'll take 10."
"Ya must be gonna make a few Bob are ya Jim?", said Ray.
"Well, I won't be shooting tin cans with 'em Ray, if that's what ya mean."
After we paid for the rifle and bullets Jim said, "You'd better give us a haircut while I'm here Ray. It's getting too long for summer. I can't stand it once it starts growing over mi ears."
"Me too.", I said to Ray. "Ya can give me a short crewcut 'cause nobodys gonna see me in the Bush."
We walked out of the Barber shop lighter in the pocket and lighter on the head.
"Put the rifle up on the back window of the Ute, Yorky. I'll see ya in the Degos' shop."
I put mi new rifle where Jim had suggested and for good measure I covered it up with an old blanket that I'd sat on as we drove into town.
When I got over to the Greek Café, Jim was buying up all the Greeks' Monopole Midgets.
"Save some for me Jim 'cause I owe ya a few packets."
"That’s a'right mate.", said the Greek Café owner. "I've got some more in the back'a. What'sa ya name?", he said to me.
"Yorky. What's yours?"
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
"Alright mate, let's unload the truck."
Fencing was really hard work and as I was soon to find out but the hard work was offset by Jims'kind heart and good sense of humor.
At around lunch time, I'd almost drank all of mi water so Jim said to me, "You'll end up sick as a dog, mate, if ya keep guzzling the water like ya are doing."
"I can't seem to stop drinking, Jim. It's really hot today and I'm thirsty and dry."
"Ah well mate, don't say I didn't warn ya!"
By the time 2 O'clock came I was layed out on mi belly under the truck, as sick as a dog. Every 5 or 10 minutes I'd spew up colorless liquid and mi belly would get a huge cramp in it which made me cry.
The heat was intolerable that day. It was about 105 degrees but old Jim never seemed to feel it as he worked on, regardless. Every now and then he'd come over to the truck and check on me.
"I'm sick mate! I've got cramps in mi belly and I'm still thirsty!"
"You'll git over it Yorky. Don't worry mate."
"Can I have some of your water, Jim?"
"No mate. I told ya you had to make it last all day. There's no water around here for miles."
"How much water do you have left Jim?"
"Just over half-a-gallon. Why?"
"Cause I'm dying of thirst mate. Mi throat feels like sandpaper and I can't swallow and I got no spit left to swallow."
"Put a small pebble in ya mouth mate, but don't swallow it."
About an hour later I felt a little bit better so I crawled out from under my shady spot and walked over to where Him was still digging a 3 foot hole to put a strainer post in.
"How ya going Yorky?", he said to me with a big smile.
"I've got nothing left in mi guts to puke up. I'm still dry but I feel a bit better now."
"Good on ya mate. That's what I've been waiting to hear. Ya learned a big lesson today Yorky. I tried to tell ya but ya wouldn't listen mate so I figured yam us have wanted to learn it the hard way so who am I to git in ya way. Another few days mate and you'll hardly drink water in the hot sun again."
A normal man could survive quite a while in the Bush without food but without water he'd be dead before he knew it. The Aborigines can go much longer without water than a white man can.
Just then, Him stopped talking and cocked his head to one side. "Shhhh!", he said as he listened. After a few seconds of silence, he said "Come on Yorky, let's go!"
He stuck the crowbar and shovel in the large strainer hole and headed towards the scrub at a fast pace.
"What's the matter?", I said as I ran to keep up with him.
"I just heard the call of a 'Wee Juggler". It must be nesting around here somewhere. Stay behind me and don't make too much noise."
We wandered around the Mali country for about 10 minutes when all of a sudden Jim stopped.
"There it is!", he said as he pointed to a large Gum. "Ya see it Yorky?"
"Oh yeh!" I said as I saw the beautiful white and pink 'Wee Juggler' sat on a partly dead tree limb.
"She's nesting in that hole in the trunk right below where she's sitting."
"That's pretty high up Jim."
"Yeah mate. That's why you're climbing up there and not me."
"Yeah mate. Come on. Up ya go Yorky. I'll give ya a leg up to the first branch."
Jim linked his fingers together and leaned his back against the Gum tree and I put mi right foot boot in his hands.
"Hold it Yorky, you'll do better if ya take ya boots off. You'll git a better grip with ya bare feet."
"Ya joking mate? This bloody tree's crawling with ants. They'll bite mi feet as I'm going up it!"
"Na mate. Don't worry about the ants. They won't eat much."
Once I reached he first limb it was reasonably easy going until I got to where the parrot had chosen to nest. There were no branches under the hole in the trunk so I had to 'bear-hug' my way up to the hole. I was about 60 feet high now and each time I looked down, Jims' bush hat seemed to be shrinking.
The view from up in the Gum tree was really pretty. I could see way over the tops of the smaller trees. It was totally silent up there except for the rustling of a few leaves. Off in the distance, out across the flat, plowed paddock, a small 'whirly-wind' was having a lot of fun whizzing across the ground, picking up leaves, dried bush grass and dust as it whirled across to the fence line.
The Mother 'Wee Juggler' had squawked quite loud and flown off into a nearby tree as she saw me coming up the main trunk. I felt like a big Goanna as I clawed mi way up the last little bit. The parrot had chewed away large splinters of wood from around the natural hollow in the trunk so as to make it big enough for her to get in and out easier.
Jim stood below looking up at me now and shouting, "Stick ya hand in the hole Yorky and be careful not to break the eggs, if there's any in there."
Very carefully I got a good grip around the trunk with my left arm and both legs and then stuck my hand downwards towards the nest. The inside of the trunk was cool and the sides were quite rough as mi hand very carefully slid downwards.
"There's 2 eggs inside!", I yelled down to Jim.
"Alright mate. Leave 'em alone and come back down."
It always seems harder to climb back down out of a high tree but pretty soon, after being very careful, I was back on the ground again.
"Those little ants bite, Jim!"
"You'll git used to 'em Yorky. Were the eggs warm?"
"Yeh, they were real warm."
"Good man.", he said. "Let's git out of here now before we disturb her too much. She's sitting in that Box tree over there. See her?"
The 'Wee Juggler" was sat high up on a limb looking towards the hole in the Gum tree.
Jim and I headed back towards where the truck was and we chatted quite excitedly as we walked through the Bush.
"How will ya know when to come back for the young ones?", I asked.
"I know how long it takes for 'em to hatch and when they're ready we'll only take one of them 'cause that's my policy. If we take both it would upset their breeding program too much and pretty soon they'd be well down in numbers and we don't want that to happen.
Let's go a do a bit more work Yorky. It's cooled down a lot now. Ya feeling any better mate?"
"Yeh, I forgot all about water as I was climbing the tree."
" That's it mate. All ya have to do is concentrate on work, the same as climbing the tree and before ya know it mate, one little sip of water will last ya for an hour or two. Besides that, it'll be good discipline for ya mate!"
The rest of the afternoon we finished digging the big round strainer post-holes so we could then start on the next part of the fence construction. We lifted one of the big wooden strainer posts into the hole that we'd just dug. Then Jim said, "You fill this hole in while I mark out where to drop off the steel pegs, Yorky."
I pick up the shovel and started to chuck the soil and rocks down around the strainer post hole.
"Not like that mate. This post is what will hold our fence so it has to be as tight as possible in the hole. This is how ya do it mate. Ya only throw a small amount of dirt around the post, then ya turn the crowbar around so the round knob is at this end. Then ya pound the dirt with it till it's packed as hard and tight as you can get it. Then ya throw in some more dirt and rocks, but only a small amount. Then ya ram it tight again. Ya keep doing that till the dirt is packed tight around the hole, 'cause when I strain the wires up tight, the strainer post will start to lean over if it's not rammed well enough."
"Alright Jim, got it."
Jim grabbed the axe and a long piece of braided wire which was 18 feet long. Every one length of wire he'd mark the ground with the back of the axe.
After I finished my job, I walked down the line to meet Jim.
"Ya finished Yorky?"
"Yeh mate, it's as tight as a fishes arse and that's watertight!"
"If it's as tight as old Burt Booths' arse it'll never move, and we'll get a real good tight fence out of it."
We both had a good old laugh out of our little jokes and Jim lit up another Monopol while I rolled up a Drum.
The hot sun was now disappearing behind the Mali trees in the Western Sky line so Jim said, "Tell ya what Yorky, we'll go back to the truck and drop off the steel pegs on our way home and that will do us for today. It's been a bit of a rough day for ya today mate and I don't want to burn ya out ya first week or I'll be stuck on mi own again mate.
What d'ya think about that?"
"Sounds great to me Jimmy, mi hands are as sore as hell. I've got blisters on blisters. Just look at 'em!"
"Oh that's good.", he said with a smile.
"What d'ya mean, 'that's good?'"
"Well mate, stop ya floggin' ya maggot. Won't it?"
"Fuck you Jim! Come on, let's go home. I'm a bit hungry now. I could eat a cool green salad and some cold mutton with a lot of salt on it."
"Good idea Yorky. I'm so hungry, I could eat the arse out of a mangy fox!"
We roared with laughter as we walked off down the fence-line together to get to the Old Bedford.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
It didn't take long to put mi sheets and a blanket on the bed and I opened up one port to use for a cupboard. I lived that way for years 'cause it was easy to close the case and move when necessary.
That evening Jim lit up the hurricane lamps so we could see to eat. After, we listened to the radio for a while, then went to bed early so as to get a good start in the morning. I never had a lamp in my room, just a candle which Jim gave me after I promised not to sleep with it burning 'cause the old house was so dry, a spark or stray flame would have sent it up in smoke within seconds.
The following morning we were up at 4:30 so we loaded the old Bedford up with steel Waratah posts (10 to a bundle), the chain saw, shovels, crowbars and picks, half-mile coils of high-tensile wire, barbwire, strainers, fencing pliers and various other tools to do the job with.
Before we took off Jim said, "Grab a couple of empty plonk flagons and fill 'em up with tank water. You're gonna need 'em."
"I'll only need one."
"I'd say you'll need about six mate, but you'll have to make do with 2. We'll take 2 each 'cause there's no water where were going."
"Alright mate.", I said. "If you say so. No problem."
After breakfast Jim grabbed the large esky box and we went outside to the truck. I went to get in the passengers seat and he said to me. "Hoy, git out of there. You must be joking mate. You can chauffeur me up the paddock!"
"But I can't drive Jim!", I said with a look of astonishment on mi face.
"No such word as 'can't', Yorky and ya certainly won't learn anything sat in the passengers seat watching me. Hop in the drivers seat mate."
This was amazing! I'd wanted to learn to drive for nearly six months and now here's this bloke telling me to chauffeur him up the paddock, out to the scrub.
"What if I have a crash Jim?"
"What if ya do mate? I'll just kick ya arse and we'll start again."
I knew he was only kidding because he had a big, warm smile on his face which I could just make out from behind the cloud of cigar smoke.
"First of all, put ya foot on the clutch and pull her out of gear into neutral, then jiggle the stick to make sure she's still not in gear. Turn the key on, give her 5 or 6 pumps on the excelerator 'cause she's cold. Then ya press the button and she should start."
I nervously followed the instructions to the letter and the old Bedford roared into life.
"She sounds a bit noisy Jim."
"Don't worry about that mate. The back end of the exhaust pipe is missing. Now, you've got to double the clutch on this old lady so every time you want to shift gears pull the stick into neutral, let out the clutch and push it in again. Then pull it the rest of the way down into gear. Away we go mate! We're off! That's what the monkey said when he sat on the circular saw watching the races. They're off! Let 's go Yorky!"
I pushed in the clutch and shoved the long stick up towards first gear.
"Let the clutch out slowly and give her a few revs!"
The old Bedford shot forwards and started to kangaroo hop out of the yard.
"Push the clutch back in Mate and try her again. This time give her more revs and let the clutch out slower until she grabs."
I repeated the instructions and this time the old Bedford eased into motion without a single jerk.
"Ya got her mate! Now, once ya git a few revs up, double the clutch as ya change gear. The gears are marked on the letter H on top of the knob."
I changed into second with a few grinds. Then I heard Jim shout, "Look out mate! We're heading for a big Box Tree!"
"Oh shit!", I said as I look back up from the gear stick knob and out the windscreen. We were off the track and heading towards a big tree! I pulled the big steering wheel around to the left and back on to the track.
"Jeesus mate! Ya had mi worried there for a minute!"
"I'm sorry mate. I was trying to read the gear numbers."
"I nearly swallowed mi Monopole, Yorky! I don't mind ya rooting the truck up but I'll be pissed if ya make me smash one of mi cigars up mate!"
Nothing seemed to worry Jim as we bumped up the track. Sometimes on it, sometimes off it.
"Ya see that gate way up there, ahead of us mate?"
"Well, we've got to go through it but preferably I'd like to open it first!"
"What d'ya mean Jim?"
"I mean, this old lady hasn't got any brakes! So make sure ya give her plenty of room to slow down."
"What? No brakes?"
"No brakes.", said Jim with a smile. "But ya can push the brake peddle if ya don't believe me. They went out a couple of weeks ago but ya never know, maybe they came back on their own!"
I pushed the brake peddle to the floor but nothing happened. The old Bedford never missed a beat.
"Oh shit Jim! What now?"
"Ya see that Gum tree overhanging the track up ahead? As soon as ya get level with it push her into neutral and we'll cruise the rest of the way up to the gate."
"What if she won't slow down in time?", I said, very nervously.
"Well it'll save me opening the gate, won't it!"
He gave me a reassuring wink and lit up his cigar and surveyed the scenery out of the passengers' side window, which had no glass in it.
When we got level with the Gum Tree I pushed her out of gear into neutral. As we headed for the big iron gate a couple of large potholes slowed us down and the old truck stopped about 15 feet in front of the gate.
"PHEW! That was close Jim."
"Close mi arse mate. Ya mean to tell me ya gonna make me walk all that way to open the gate?"
"We're only 15 feet away."
"Yeh, but the gate opens the other way mate, so I've gotta git out and walk 15 feet before I git to the gate! Never mind Yorky, ya can stop closer to it on the way back home.", he said with a grin.
By the time we got out to the paddocks where we were to start fencing, I was not sure whether I wanted to learn driving or not but Jimmy reassured me by saying, "You're gonna make a beaut driver Yorky. Ya did as well as I could have done it miself!"
"How do you know which Gum trees to use as markers for slowing down?"
"Easy mate, I've hit those gates miself before today." said with a wink.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Jim's old place really was a humpy, the house was falling down around his ears. The corrugated tin roof was brown with rust and the trough was literally down in places. The wood board sides had panels missing so that one could see into the rooms. The inside floor-boards were warped in all directions and in some places dry rot had eaten large holes in them. But for all of this, it was hanging together by the unspoken love between himself and his family.
When we got inside he said, "Look out Yorky, don't walk there or ya foot will go through mi floor mate!"
"G'day Shirley.", said Jim as we walked into the kitchen.
"G'day Jim.", She said to him. "This must be Yorky, is it Jim?"
"Yeh, this is Yorky, Shirl. This is mi missus, Yorky. Best little cook this side of the Black Stump Mate. Not a bad looker either, eh mate?"
I shook Shirleys' hand and said, "Pleasure to meet ya, Mrs. Smith."
"The names is Shirley. It'll go to mi head if ya call me Mrs. Smith. Even mi kids call me Shirl."
"Alright, Shirley it is."
"D'ya want some smoko, Jim?" I've just boiled the kettle.", she said.
"Yeah, why not. We'll have some smoko and then I'll help Yorky bring his bags in. We've got a nice room for ya mate. It's even got it's own air-conditioning built in."
"Oh stop it Jimmy!", said Shirl. "He's just kidding ya Yorky. What he means is, one of the boards fell off the side wall of your room and Jimmy hasn't had time to nail it back up yet. We don't even have electricity at this place, let alone air-conditioning."
"Yeh, just joking mate. It's what makes life tolerable, eh? A good joke once a day at least!"
The temperature outside now was probably around 90 degrees inside the kitchen. Shirley had a wood stove going so as to make the tea for us. As you may well imagine it was pretty warm in that old kitchen.
Just then, Jims' oldest child who couldn't speak too well said something to Jim I could not understand.
Then Jim said to Shirl, "Ya shot a snake in here this morning Shirl?"
"Oh yeh, I forgot to tell ya, with all the excitement going on."
"What happened then?"
"He was stretched out in front of the stove when I came back in from hanging out some washing so I went round the front way and got the .22 out a' the bedroom. I walked up the passage and he was still in the same place so I let him have it."
"D'ya get him?"
"Have you ever known me miss yet, Jimmy Smith? Course I got him. I blew his head clean off with one shot. Ya see that stain over ther where I tried to clean it up?"
"Oh yeh.", said Jim. "Don't get on the wrong side of her Yorky. She's got six brothers all older than her and she could beat 'em all in a shooting contest. She used to got rabbit spotlighting with her Dad when she was only 7 years old. She's been shooting for 50 years mate."
"You stop that Jim Smith! I was only 20 when we got married and we've only been married for 8 years."
"Is that all? Streuth, it felt longer than that."
"I'm warning you Jimmy." Said Shirl, with a mischievous smile on her face.
"Alright. Enough's enough. Have a cigar Yorky. Ya can buy me a pack when we go to town again."
"Thanks Jim, I'll buy ya a couple of packs so I'm not in debt."
"Just one pack will be enough mate or you'll put me in debt!"
"Can I see your .22 Jim?"
"Yeh mate. First door on the left, down the passage. It's leaning against the wall near mi bed. Check it first and make sure there's not one up the spout."
"Great!", I said, as I took off down the passage.
The rifle was right where he said it would be so I opened the bolt and checked to make sure that it was empty and took it back to the kitchen with me.
"How d'ya git the magazine out Jim?"
"Press that catch under the back of the mag, mate. It should fall out on its own then. Not a bad little pea rifle Yorky, eh?"
"It's a beauty Jim. Would you mind if I bought one for myself while I'm here?"
"Why should I mind Yorky? Long as ya careful with it. I'll help ya pick out a good one if ya want me to. When it gets really hot we can go rabbit shootin' of a night. I made big money at it this time last year, eh Shirl."
I put Jims' .22 back in the bedroom where I found it, then went back out to finish mi tea. I was feeling really happy now. I already felt like one of the family so I promised myself that I'd work hard for Him so he'd make as much money as possible.
"Come on mate.", said Jim. "Let's go outside. I'll show ya mi Avery I'm building."
"Toe, toe, tu?" said Tony.
"Alright mate, you can come as well."
"What did he say Jim?"
"He said he wants to come with us. All my kids, except the youngest have got a speech problem Yorky. We've had 'em to specialists all over the place but no one has been able to help so far. The last bloke said he's pretty sure they'll grow out of it as they get bigger. Once you've been around a few weeks you'll be able to understand 'em as well as me. Their IQ's have all been tested and they're well above average. I sometimes think they prefer their own language to English. The only time I can't understand 'em is the odd times when they have a blue and once they get shouting and yelling at each other, I haven't got a bloody clue what they're fighting about so I have to separate 'em and get each individual side, so I know what to say."
"Toe, toe, pa pu.", said Tony, who was about 5 years old.
"Yeh mate.", said Jim. "That's your Wee Juggler."
"Here ya go mate, said Jim, as we walked towards the Avery. "It's only small so far but this year I'm gonna make it much bigger 'cause I got mi eye on a lot of nests now and with your help Yorky we'll git a lot more mate, 'cause I'm too scared these days to climb as high as I used to."
"No worries mate.", I said to Jim, testing mi new-found Aussie accent on him.
I'd only now Jim for a few hours so he hadn't known my full-on broad Yorkshire accent.
"Ya see that Wee Juggler mate? He's also called a Major Mitchell. Well those blokes nest up in high, dead limbs of Gum trees so they're pretty hard to get at and that fella there is a Sulphur-Crested. They nest even higher."
"What's the others, Jim?"
"Well, there's a couple of Ring Necks, 4 Blue Bonnets, half-a-dozen Grass Parrots, 2 pair of Quarry-hens, that's those pink-cheeked ones over there. The rest of 'em are various Rosellas and Lorries."
"This is a great Avery Jim."
"Oh she's not bad mate but after the summers over she'll be a lot bigger. Anyway Yorky, lets git ya gear inside and ya can make ya self at home. I'm gonna chop a bit a' wood for the missus this arvo, 'cause once we start this contract we'll be pretty busy mate."
We carried my cases into the bedroom that was reserved for me.
"Grand Streuth!", said Jim. "What ya got in these bloody ports? You'll have to stack one each side of the room mate or they'll fall through the floor."
"Are ya serious Jim?"
"Na mate, just kidding. But I'm not kidding about the weight! You've got enough gear in here to look after a bloody army, mate!"
"It's what the Big Brother Movement told me I had to have out here."
"Sounds to me, mate, that those blokes have never been out a' Sydney."
"They probably haven't.", I said.
Friday, October 3, 2008
One evening Peter Smith unexpectedly drove into Burts' yard and stopped in a cloud of dust outside my tin shed.
"G'day ya bastard!" he said with a huge grin on his face.
"G'day Peter, How are ya mate?"
My use of the Aussie accent and lingo was now improving somewhat.
"I'm good sport, and I'm good because I've got some good news for ya Yorky!"
"Ya got me a new job Peter?"
"Sure have mate! It took me awhile but I eventually found one for ya."
"What's it doing and who will I be working with? , I said, as mi heart was now skipping beats like a room skips over a fence.
"Well mate, you'll be starting a new career in contract fencing with a real good bloke called Jim Smith."
"Is he any relation to you Pete?"
"Na mate, no relation at all but he's a beaut bloke."
"Where does Jim Smith live Peter?" I asked as he started the Ute.
"Burgooney, about 3 miles from the station."
"What fucking station? My old tin shed was bigger than that station ticket office and that Joey I had could hop across that room in one hop on one leg!", I said as we drove off down the track, laughing our heads off.
The red dust flew up behind us as we drove along and Peter turned on the radio. We drove in silence as we listened to Slim Dusty singing one of his famous Bush ballads called, 'My Home on the Sunburnt Plain'.
"Grab that gate, Yorky." said Peter as we slowed down.
The gate was opened and closed in a jiffy and the Ute was once more kicking up dust as it rolled over large potholes.
"There's Jims' old Bedford truck, right where he said it would be."
"I can't see Jim anywhere around Peter?"
"Oh he's probably gone off in the Bush chasing a parrot."
"What d'ya mean 'chasing a parrot?"
"Jim's mad about parrots. He's got a small Avery back of his Humpy."
"He must really like parrots."
"Like 'em! If he hears a parrot he's not seen in these parts he'd drop his tools at the drop of a hat and go off chasing to find out where it's nesting."
"There's somebody walking out of the Bush."
"That's him mate. Let's git out and go meet him." Said Peter.
" G'day Jim, ya' been off in the Bush chasing parrots again mate?"
"Not this time mate", said Jim Smith. "I had a few minutes to spare so I went to drop mi guts. So this is mi new pommy fencer is it Pete?"
"Yeah mate. This is Yorky, Jim. Yorky, this is Jim."
"Nice to meet ya Yorky.", said Jim as we shook hands on the track.
"I'm glad ya could give a bit of a hand mate. The weather's starting to heat up now and I always seem to slow down when that happens."
"I haven't fenced before, ya know.", I said to Jim.
"No worries mate. I'll teach ya all I know. It'll only take mi 5 minutes."
This little joke from Jim let me know he was a real good bloke.
"Better put ya gear on Jims' truck Yorky, I gotta git back to my place now. I've got a few things I've got to finish today.", said Peter.
After mi 2 cases and mi trumpet were put on the open back of Jims' old Bedford truck, I walked over to Peter and said to him,
"I wanna thank ya for everything you've done for me mate."
"Bullshit! Enjoy ya new job mate. Ya deserve it. See ya later Jim.", said Peter as he hopped in his Ute.
"Alright mate.", said Jim. Drop in some time when ya passing."
"Don't forget to make him work Jim."
"She'll be right. I'll look after him."
"Alright Yorky, hop in the truck and we'll git ya gear back to the house. We'll start work tomorrow, that'll give ya time to unpack a bit of gear and fix up the room we've got for ya."
"Is it hard work, fencing?"
"Well, it's not easy Yorky, put it that way, but you'll get used to it mate. Just take it easy for a couple of days, then you'll be right. The main thing is ya hands. Once they toughen up to the job, bobs ya aunty mate."
I liked this man. He was easy going and had a big heart.
"Can ya drive mate?" asked Jim.
"No, old Burt wouldn't let me. He gave me a push bike to go up the mali."
"Oh that's no good mate. Ya gotta be able to drive in the Bush. Ya git more work that way. Anyway that's not a problem because you'll be driving as good as me in a few days."
"Ya mean you'll teach me to drive Jim?"
"No mate, you'll teach ya self. I'm gonna provide the truck!"
"Oh, that's really kind of you."
"No, it's a fact of Bush life. I had to learn to drive when I was 13 or I wouldn't have been able to git to work."
"Have you been working since you were 13?"
"Sure have Yorky. The only problem is it's habit-forming. Once you start, it's hard to stop, especially when you've got a wife and 4 young kids like I've got."
"How far to your place now?"
"About another 10 minutes mate."
"Do you always smoke cigars, Jim?"
"Yup, I sure do Yorky. That's another thing I started at 13 and now it's hard to stop, D'ya wanna try one mate?"
"If you've got enough, I'll have one."
"Oh, I think I can spare one, but if ya get the taste for 'em you'll have to buy ya own. There's a packet in the glove box. Help ya self mate."
"How d'ya like 'em?", he asked, as I puffed and coughed mi guts out.
"They're a bit strong."
"Yeah, they're beauties aren't they?", he said with a big grin on his face.
"Oh look". I said. "There's Burgooney Station."
"Yeh, that's right. Ya know Burgooney do ya?"
"Not really. It's where I got off when they sent me out here."
"Well, ya know Burgooney as well as anyone can 'cause that's all there is at Burgooney, the Ticket Station and I've never seen it open as long as I've been around here. My old Humpy's down the track a couple more miles. I think it used to belong to the railroad at one time."
"Who owns it now?"
"The cocky down the track further."
"Does it cost ya much in rent?"
"Not a penny, 'cause it's not worth it. The old place is falling down around mi ears, Yorky, but she'll do till I get something better, I suppose."
A few minutes later Jim pulled off the main track and took a small one-way Bush track through the scrub.
"There she is Yorky. That's mi old palace.", he said as we pulled up in a large clearing which was obviously his front yard.
As soon as the old Bedford pulled up outside the old broken-down Humpy, 4 small kids raced up to the drivers door and stared to bang on it with their small fists.
"Alright, alright.", said Jim to the kids. "Let a man git out so he can give ya a hug!"
The kids backed away from the door and Jim jumped down from the cab onto the dirt.
They were now tearing at his trouser legs for his undivided attention. He picked up each on of 'em in turn and gave them a big, noisy kiss on their cheeks. After that , they tried to drag him off into the old house.
"Come on Yorky.", he said. "We'll git ya gear in a while mate."
As soon as I got out of the cab, Jims' kids cried out in surprise and ran off into the house. I just stood there not knowing what to do or say.
"Did I scare them off Jim?"
"No Yorky, You're the first visitor they've seen for 6 months so they're a bit shy around strangers. Come on mate, let's go inside."