Monday, March 23, 2015
OFF TO TOWN::A STORY FROM THE OUTBACK
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."
"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 movie 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?"
"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.
"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.