Wednesday, February 22, 2012
BURGOONEY, MATE: A STORY FROM THE OUTBACK ©
A few days later Defoe gave six of the older boys 5 pounds each and a train ticket to a Bush town.
"The Cocky will meet ya at the station, so good luck lads. This is Gods' own country and with a bit of hard work and a few brains ya should do all right for ya selves."
We said our goodbyes to each other and that was the last I saw of them. As the days went by Bill Defoe kept getting phone calls from Mr. Mansell, the Aussie Director of the BBM. Each time he got a phone call, a few more boys were shipped out until only 2 of us remained, me and Morris.
One day I said to Bill, "What about me and Morris Bill? Haven't ya got a place for us to go to yet?"
"Ya sure ya won't change ya mind about going in the Army, Yorky?"
"Quite sure Bill. I'm itching to get out to the Bush. I've been looking forwards to that for 2 years now."
"Alright mate." He said. "Ya old enough to leave home so I guess ya old enough to make decisions for ya self. You and ugly Morris will be leaving tomorrow morning so better roll ya swag bright and early."
He walked away resigned to the fact that Army life was not for me.
It was difficult for me to sleep that evening 'cause all I could think of was red dust and kangaroos. When morning finally came I was packed up within half an hour so I made mi way across to the kitchen for some breakfast.
After breakfast we said goodbye to the cook and went back to the Nissan hut. Before long Bill Defoe came through the doorway and said, "Here's ya ticket Maurice. There's 5 quid for ya start in life. Here's your ticket Yorky and here's a fiver mate. Make sure you look after it 'cause you'll have to work bloody hard in the Bush for a fiver."
"Thanks Bill." I said. "You're a real good bloke. You've really helped me a lot since I've been here."
"Root ya boot Yorky." He said with a slight waver in his voice. "Ya train leaves at 2 O'clock from Sydney Central so don't go fuckin' around Sydney and miss 'em or you'll be sleeping on the station all night."
An hour or so later one of the Jackeroos loaded our cases into his car and drove us both down to Cabramatta Station and before long Maurice and I were humping our cases onto the Central Stations' platform.
It was now about 11 and we had to wait until 2 in the afternoon for Maurices' train. Mine didn't arrive until 4:15 so we sat around the station smoking fags and eating hot chips covered in tomato sauce.
There was no one left in my life now to say. 'Don't do this' or 'Don't do that!' All I had to listen to now was the inner voice of silence that lives in the center of my heart.
The train Morris was due to take arrived on time and I helped him put his 2 large bags on board.
"Look after yourself Morris." I said as he climbed up the steps. "Keep practicing with your knife mate and best of luck to ya."
"Same to you Yorky." he said and then went inside to find his seat.
I watched the train slowly pull out of Central Station and unbeknownst to me, a couple of years later I found out from one of the boys I accidentally met while traveling around the fairgrounds that poor old Morris was gored to death by a large stud bull. The bull was in heat and really cranky. Morris was walking through the paddock when the bull decided to charge him. Morris ran for the fence but he was not fast enough. The bull stuck one of its horns straight through Maurice's back and broke it. Then it gored him into the ground. At the time the boy told me this story I knew that none of us can escape our destiny.
I was now left sitting on Central Station by myself. I felt rather sad as I sat there, thinking about all the people I had left behind, mi mother, dad and sisters, the 15 lads I'd lived with for the past 9 weeks, Bill Defoe. They were in the dead past now and all I was left with was myself.
'Oh well', I thought, as I wiped away a couple of tears that slowly trickled down the front of mi cheek, 'I'm left with what I stared out with, myself.'
"THE TRAIN STANDING ON PLATFORM 17 WILL BE LEAVING IN 5 MINUTES. IT WILL ARRIVE IN LAKE CARGELLIGO AT 12:30 PM TOMORROW. ALL THOSE WHO ARE TRAVELING ON THE TRAIN SHOULD BOARD NOW."
"Is this the train to Burgooney?" I said to a platform ticket man.
"It sure is mate. Ya got a long ride ahead of ya. You'd best hop on her 'cause she's pulling out soon."
"Thanks mate." I said and threw mi 2 large suitcases up the 3 steps and into the carriage. After I found my reserved seat and put mi cases where I could keep an eye on 'em, then made misen comfortable. Pretty soon the old train gave a big jerk and a few clunks and it slowly pulled out of Sydneys' Central Station.
'Well, here we go.' I thought. 'There's no turning back now.' I realized that the other boys must all have been thinking the same as me when their train pulled out of Central.
There was only a couple of people in my carriage, a woman and a man, so I put mi feet up and looked out of the window at the suburbs which were now flying past. The train to Lake Cargelligo was an Express. The word Express had nothing to do with the speed of the train, which was quite slow in comparison to the English Steam Trains. On the floor, under where my feet were supposed to be was a sort-of half-round tin can. It was about 18" long, 10" wide and about 5" deep. It was the strangest contraption that I'd ever seen on a train before and when I made some investigations I discovered that each seat had the same tin can underneath it.
The first stop was Paramatta. It was a small suburb of Sydney and lay at the bottom of the Blue Mountains. I had read in the brochures that the BBM sent me in England that Parramatta was once a penal town. There was a well-known jail there, which used to house the convicts in the early settlers days. In the 1700s' there was no road or rail across the Blue Mountains so when the convicts escaped they always took 2 or 3 weaker mates with them so that they'd have some food when they ran out. The stronger convicts killed off the weaker ones and ate them just to survive. That will give you an idea of how rough that mountain range was in those days.
It was getting dark now as the old train made its way slowly up and over the Blue Mountains. Once we got through Luera and Blackheath, the train picked up some speed and headed out due west to the Bush.
"Tickets please." Said the conductor. I handed him my ticket and he said, "Burgooney, eh mate?"
"Ya just come out from the old country have ya mate?"
"Yes, I've been here for about nearly 2 weeks now."
"Jesus Christ mate, you're in for a right eye-opener."
"What do you mean?"
"You'll find out sport." He said as he punched the ticket.
"What's this can for?" I said.
"Oh, ya never seen one of those before mate? At about 8 O'clock tonight one of the stewards will fill it up with hot water. Keep ya feet warm mate. It gets pretty cold out West this time of year. There's a blanket overhead. You'll need that or you'll freeze ya arse off. You can get ya self some sandwiches and hot tea when the canteen opens. You'll need that too. Give us a holler if ya need anything else. There's hardly a soul on the train so I've got lots of spare time this trip."
"Thanks." I said and put mi ticket in mi back pocket so I wouldn't lose it.
After, I bought some sandwiches, hot tea, a bottle of pop and a couple of bags of chips. I ate them all and then set about rolling myself a big fat Havelock cigarette. It was pitch dark out the window now so I read an old newspaper that someone had left behind.
All through the dark night we traveled, almost non-stop. The tin of hot water was great to put mi feet on because by now it had gotten really cold. I dozed and nodded the night away and when the sun came up at 6 in the morning I could no longer recognize any of the scenery. Looking out the window all I could see for miles around was wide-open spaces. Some of the red land was quite barren in places and in others there was only Mali for miles and miles. (Mali country is best described as dense bush.)
"Lamb chops, bacon and eggs do ya for breakfast?" said the steward.
"That sounds great."
"It's being served up in the dining car in about 10 minutes so you'd might as well go through now."
I had not rested too well that previous evening because it was so cold and the thought of bacon, eggs and lamb chops with a hot cuppa tea was all I needed to get mi
stiff little body mobile again.
Soon as breakfast was over I went for a walk around the train. There was only 3 people left on the whole train now so I was beginning to wonder where the hell Burgooney was. After the train left Parks, one old couple got off and at Forbes the remaining old lady left the train. I was the only paying passenger left besides the conductor and the steward. That was it!
We passed a small bush town called Condoblin and the train chugged on for another hour or so.
"Your stops coming up shortly mate." said the conductor as he walked through the carriage.
I got mi 2 big suitcases ready by the door so it wouldn't take me so long to get off. The train started to slow down but as yet I could see no station in sight. Five minutes later the brakes started to squeal as the old train ground to a halt.
"Here ya go mate." Said the conductor. "This is Burgooney. Give us one of those cases; I'll give ya a hand off with it. Someone coming to meet ya are they?"
"Yes, a bloke called Burt Booth is supposed to pick me up."
"Christ, I hope he's not too late mate. She must be a hundred degrees in the shade today."
I jumped down off the train and the conductor handed me mi 2 large suitcases.
"Best of luck lad. You better hang out in the shade or you'll fry in this heat. It's a good job that you've got that Bush hat to keep the sun off or ya wouldn't last but 5 minutes today."
The guard/conductor blew a loud, shrill whistle and the old train and its 4 carriages took off slowly down the railway track.
Burgooney station consisted of one small-corrugated tin shed, which was securely locked, and a half-moon sign that read:
I was now in a state of shock. Almost immediately hundreds of small bush flies decided to give me a warm welcome. It must have been at least 100 degrees as I tried in vain to keep the bush flies off mi face. I opened one of mi cases and found a tin of Air-o-guard but it made no difference at all. When I looked in one direction there was nothing as far as my eyes could see and in the other direction all I could see was Mali bush trees. It was the most frightened and despondent time I have ever felt in mi whole life up till that point.
Miles away in the distance I could see a small cloud of red dust. Everywhere I looked was shimmering heat waves and in some places the heat mirages looked like big waves of water. As I sat there in the heat on one of mi suitcases, the sweat was streaming down mi face and the bush flies were tormenting me to death.
'Now you've really done it Richard!' a small inner voice said. 'The farmer has probably forgotten you and you'll starve to death out here and no one will ever find you. Why did you leave your mothers' warm, cozy house? At least you had food and water there and Jim Bailey was a good bloke compared to this hell-hole!'
'Piss off!' I said to the voice, out loud. The curse shattered the hot, dusty silence for a split second then got lost in the wide-open space. The only form of life I could see was 3 black crows that sat in a gum tree and cawed out loud every now and again.
I decided to move around 'cause the hundreds of bush flies were just about driving me insane now. I could feel the heat of the ground burning its way through mi shoes as I walked around the tin shed.
When I looked through the dusty window of the shed I made the mistake of putting mi hand on the tin wall, which was burning hot. Instantly, I pulled it away and cursed.
"Shit! Fuck! Bastard!" I said as I shook mi hand and then looked at the large red patch that had just formed. I was now close to tears so I walked around the back of the station shed to investigate further.
All of a sudden I noticed a great big lizard who was sat in the sunshine staring straight at me. He was a couple of feet long and had hard, thick scaly skin. Around his neck was a big frill of scales. I did not know if he would attack me or not so I bent down and grabbed a broken limb and hurled it in his general direction.
The tree limb almost hit him so he took off at full speed straight under the tin shed. As he ran he kicked up a small cloud of red dust behind him. All over the ground were these small brown burrs with tiny barbs sticking out of them. Growing up the back-side of the shed wall was a patch of brittle looking thistles about 4 feet high. The ground was as hard as concrete and it looked as though it had never rained for years in these parts. A bit further along I saw a huge mound of dirt, which had holes the size of a sixpence all over it. Picking up a hot, flat rock, I threw it at the mound. Within seconds the biggest ants I had ever seen came marching out to investigate the violent intrusion. I stood well back as I watched them scurrying over and around the mound. They had 2 little pincers at each side of their mouth and they looked very much to me like miniature black crabs. Later on I came to know they were called Bull ants and could give a nasty bite to an unsuspecting victim.
Off in the distance, the small cloud of red dust was now beginning to get bigger and bigger and after 10 minutes or so I could see a small white dot in front of the cloud of red dust. A few minutes later I recognized the white dot as a pickup truck.
Ten minutes later the pickup ground to a halt in front of me in a cloud of red dust that got up my nose and made me cough a bit. In the back of the truck were 2 black dogs with pricked ears and yellow eyes. They stared straight at me and as soon as I moved they started to bark.
"Sit down ya bastards!" roared a broad Australian voice from inside the cab. The drivers' side opened and a rough-looking Bushman climbed out from behind the dusty steering wheel.
"G'day." He said, "My name's Burt Booth. You must be Richard, are ya?"
'Yes, that's right."
"Throw your ports in the back of the Ute mate and we'll git moving."
"What about the dogs?"
"They won't hurt ya mate. They're chained up to the front."
The dogs lunged and growled at me as I lifted both mi suitcases and stacked them in the back.
"Sit down, ya fucking bastards!" yelled Burt Booth at the 2 mean-looking black dogs.
"Come on mate, git a move on!" said old Burt Booth as I arranged mi two cases so the dogs wouldn't chew 'em. "Hop in the other side." He said, so I walked around the Ute and opened the passenger door. "Christ, she's a warm one today." He said as he put the Ute into first gear.