Wednesday, December 14, 2016
A STORY FROM THE OUTBACK::MY PAL JOEY
Peter Smith came back out to old Burts' place to see me. He pulled up in Burts' yard one evening and jumped out of his blue Ute.
"G'day Yorky.", he said, as he walked around the back of the Ute.
"G'day Peter. How're you going?"
"Good mate. I brought ya something."
He leaned over the side of the Ute and pulled out a large wheat bag that was tied with a lump of bailing twine.
"What's in the bag Peter?"
"Open her up and have a 'butchers' mate, but be clever."
He handed me the large sack and immediately whatever was inside started to move around.
"What's inside Peter?"
"Open the bastard up mate, if ya wanna know."
I undid the bow which kept the bag shut tight and when I peered down inside it, I saw a young joey kangaroo.
"It's a joey Pete!"
"Yeh mate. I thought ya might like it. It'll be a bit of company for ya. Ya just have to feed it a bottle of boiled milk morning and night but don't be surprised if it dies on ya 'cause they're a bit hard to raise most times."
"Where am I gonna put it?"
"Come on inside ya hut. I'll show ya how to do it mate."
When we got inside the tin hut, Peter opened the bag and stuck his hand inside and then pulled the young joey out of the bag by its' tail. It was quite scared of being out in the light so it started to kick and make a clicking sound.
"Stick him up ya jumper mate. He'll quieten down then."
The young joey crawled up under mi jumper, back into the dark and was quiet as a mouse again, once he made himself comfortable under mi armpit.
"Ya leave the top of the bag tied like this mate, then ya hang it on a nail. This one over here will do. Next, ya cut a slit along the bag, like so. Then it resembles its mothers' pouch. That's it. That'll do mate."
"How do I feed it Peter?"
"Ya git old Kay to boil up a small amount of milk and then ya put it in a bottle and ya put a small amount of burnt cinder powder in it. That'll stop him from getting the scowers. Ya put the rubber teet on the end and the first couple of times you'll have to hold him and force it in his mouth but as soon as he knows the bottle's full of warm milk he'll hold the bottle himself with his hands and feed himself. We'll go over and see old Kay. She used to have a pet too but it got too big and cranky so she let him go. She'll be glad to give ya a hand looking after it. It'll remind her of the time she got her first pet roo, mate.", he said, with a knowing, cheeky wink.
Peter was no mug. When Kay Booth saw the joey she was more than happy to help so old Burt couldn't say a word about it. Kay proceeded to tell us all about her pet roo which took about half an hour and when Peter and I got back to mi shed he said,
"I told ya sport. She's on our side now. Better to have old Kay as a friend. It'll make ya life a bit easier out here. How's things going anyway, Yorky?"
I told Peter about old Burt doing his nut and chasing me with the axe.
"Gawd Streuth mate! We've gotta git ya out of this place while ya still in one piece! I've got a place in mind for ya to go but the bloke is still waiting for a contract to come through and as soon as it does, ya outa' here. I'd take ya back to my place tonight but there's no room and there's no work so I can't do that. Ya think ya can hang on at this place for a while longer?"
"Yeh, I'll be alright. He's been a bit better since he chased me with the axe but I don't like old Burt. He's as miserable as chickenshit."
"Ya not wrong there mate and you're not the only one who thinks that. Anyway mate, I'll be back to see ya again soon so look after ya self Yorky and don't let the bastard git ya down, alright?"
"Alright mate. Thanks for the joey and thanks for looking out for me."
"No worries mate. I'd do the same for a white feller."
"Oh that's a good joke Peter. I'll save that one for old Burt one day."
After Peter left, Mrs. Booth came over with a bottle of milk with a lambs teet on the end of it.
"Do you want to see if he's hungry Richard?"
"Yeh, let's try him. They shot his mother along with the rest of the mob so he's probably a bit hungry now and he won't feel so frightened once he gets some warm milk into him."
The young joey kicked and scratched as he tried to get away from me when I took him out of his new pouch.
"Hold him firm while I get the teet in his mouth.", said Kay.
Once the joey tasted the warm cows milk, he started to settle down until he had finished three-quarters of the bottle. Then he pissed on mi trousers and started to struggle again so I put him back in the old wheat-bag pouch. As soon as he saw the tear across the front of the bag he hopped in headfirst and rolled over on his back then curled himself into a tight ball and went to sleep.
After a week or so, joey could get out of the bag himself. He could sit right up on his back legs and tail. Already he had learned to hold the bottle himself. He looked so sweet as he sat on the floor of mi hut feeding himself and looking around.
Sometimes at night I'd put him in mi bed but one night he pissed all over the sheets so sleeping in the bed with me was now out of bounds to him. Another week and he could hop up on the bed himself but he could not distinguish between the bed and the old dressing table so many a time he would hop up on the table and knock the photos and mi other knick-knacks all over the place. One night when he saw his reflection in the mirror he tried to kick it to death and almost cracked the mirror.
Joey was a lot of fun. Peter was right, it made staying at old Burts' place a bit more tolerable but life being what it is, it soon took joey away from me.
One cold morning at about 4 O'clock, I woke up with a start for some unknown reason. I switched on the one light bulb. Nothing seemed out of place but something did not feel right. Joey was sat in his pouch with his head out of the slit in the bag. His big black eyes were staring across at me.
"Put ya head back in mate, it's a cold morning.", I said but he never moved. "Git back in the pouch where it's warm, joey, or you'll git cold."
I got out of bed and walked across the cold oil-cloth to where joeys' bag was hanging. When I touched his furry head he was as stiff as a board and at once I knew he was dead.
"Oh fuck! Why did you have to go and die just when we were having a good time together?"
When I tried to get joey out of the bag pouch, I saw the reason for his death. A loose strand of bag had gotten twisted around his neck as he got back in his pouch, head first and as soon as he tried to turn around, the piece of frayed string had tightened around his throat and choked him. I had a good cry to myself as I cut the string from around his neck and pulled his stiff little body out of the bag.
Before breakfast, I showed old Kay what had happened and she was also quite upset about it. When Burt found out he said,
"They're pretty hard to raise. If they don't get the scowers they git a cold and if it's not any of those two things, it's something else."
"What do I do with him now Burt? Shall I bury him somewhere?"
"Na mate, just chuck his body to the pigs. It's no good to him now so the pigs may as well eat it. Everything has some use in the bush, mate. We''ll all end up as tucker for something one of these days."
For once, I could see that old Burt was right. Joey could no longer use a dead roos' body, so I hardened my heart and threw the dead body into the pigs pen and walked away.