Now He’s Easy

He opens the small, red painted, metal box in which is housed his collection of memoirs from nearly three quarters of a century of life in the remote back blocks of Australia where he spent his time in the stock camps.

As he sifts through the dozens of notebooks and diaries, he looks back over a full life of hardships and triumphs. He turns the old pocket knife over and over in gnarled hands twisted with arthritis, and smells again the pungent aroma of burning flesh under the branding iron, cow dung and bulldust.

…………………

Born at William Creek in South Australia in 1902, the fifth child and second son of the Postmaster and Boarding House Proprietor, Charlie was a raw sixteen years old when he followed his older brother Fred to learn the stockman’s trade. Being the youngest child of parents who suffered the agony of losing their fourth child, a daughter, in infancy and with two older sisters, Charlie was spoiled, cocky and full of his own importance; traits he would carry with him throughout his life, tempered with an acquired toughness of mind and body necessary for survival in the harsh Australian bush.

Charlie was christened Charles Henry but preferred the more important- sounding handle, Chas, which it seems only he used, his friends and associates opting for the more common ‘Charlie’. He started his apprenticeship as a jackeroo ringer under the strict and watchful eye of Ernie Kempe, the esteemed Manager of Macumba Station some thirty miles from the small township of Oodnadatta. Macumba was one of the properties owned by the cattle king, Sidney Kidman, later known as Sir Sidney Kidman.

Ernie Kempe presided over three Kidman properties – Macumba, Hamilton and Eringa Stations and Charlie’s brother Fred was head stockman on Macumba when Charlie went there in 1919 to begin his training. Fred took his young brother aside and impressed on him that Ernie Kempe was a hard taskmaster and he must be diligent at all times and accept whatever job was handed out to him without complaint, and to do the job carefully and well.”If you can stay with Ernie for six months, you will stay with him and the Kidman firm for as long as you like.” Fred counselled.

Charlie was pretty green as are all jackaroos, but he had learned to ride so his confidence was running high. Well, he could ride a donkey which was almost a horse and he’d had some experience as a kid in the woolshed at Anna Creek Station, owned at the time by Hogarth and Warron and running some 100,000 sheep.

Ernie Kempe put much time and effort into the training of his young jackeroos and kept them under his eye until he was sure they were capable of working unsupervised. He had many a test up his sleeve for the unsuspecting jackeroos and often they were subjected to a bit of ridicule which they were expected to take in good spirits.

Just when Charlie was feeling he’d graduated and was heard skiting about riding a notorious horse that liked to throw its riders, Ernie struck. As Charlie spurred his mount to a trot as they passed the homestead gate, a shiny tin can landed with a clatter on the stones and the horse reared up in fear, Charlie was unceremoniously dumped into the bulldust and, to make matters worse, had to pick himself up and use shanks’ pony to find his mount which had bolted.

When Ernie was satisfied Charlie could stay on a horse, he sent him trackriding. With a black boy, a small plant of horses and a month’s provisions, he was told to go to the south side of the property and make a camp. From that camp he and the boy were to take daily treks on opposite sides of the camp (east and west) for a distance of about eight to ten miles and look for tracks of cattle heading off the property. Tracks found were to be followed, and the animals brought back where they belonged.

After a month, Charlie and the boy were to return to the homestead with their plant to report on the number of cattle they’d had to return to the fold, stock up with a further months tucker and do it all over again.

Trackriding is a lonely, boring job and after the second month’s stint, Charlie was fed to the back teeth with it. When told he was to keep at it he was heard to grumble about his misfortune at not getting a break. It was Ernie’s way that if he heard a grumble of discontent with a job assigned to his men, he kept them at it until they learned to stick with it or chuck in the job. Charlie was many months trackriding with brief respites when extra hands were needed for branding or mustering.

Charlie became quite an expert at tracking, and he learned the important lesson that when asked to do a boring or repetitive job to express clearly his liking for, if not his love of, that particular job.

By the time Charlie had seen out his first twelve months, brother Fred was promoted to Manager of Eringa Station, and six months later, he got the chance to try his hand at responsibility when he was sent to relieve Fred for six weeks while he went on holidays. When Fred returned to take up the reins, Charlie was left at Eringa and Fred entrusted him with a plant of fifty working horses to go to Stuart (now Alice Springs), several hundred miles to the north to meet drover Ted Lennon who was bringing a mob of one thousand bullocks down from Glenroy, in the Gulf, a droving feat of some fifteen hundred miles.

Charlie had a black boy called George as his offsider, and they arrived in Stuart without mishap. However, they had a two week wait. Lennon was late arriving with the bullocks so they set up camp on the banks of the dry bed of the Todd River. They got caught in a big flood that happened when there was considerable rain in Central Australia and the Todd River became a raging torrent, breaking its banks and spreading far and wide.

Charlie and George managed to save the horses and most of their gear except for one pack saddle. The horses had been hobbled with bullock hide straps which, when wet, stretched and fell off. They lost fifty pair of hobbles which had to be replaced from the Wallis & Co Store. When Ted Lennon arrived with the bullocks, Charlie and George joined the drover and returned to Eringa while Ted Lennon continued on a further one hundred miles to deliver his mob to Macumba.

In 1923 Charlie got promoted to Head Stockman at Eringa and when Fred went off to manage Anna Creek Station, Charlie took over the management of Eringa. In the drought of 1925/27 the station was closed down and Charlie shifted the cattle back to Macumba, one hundred miles to the south. He then went back to Eringa to pick up a plant of horses being hand fed hay, and embarked on a horse mustering job from Eringa, through Hamilton and Macumba, Oodnadatta and Edwards Creek.

At Edwards Creek, Archie McLean and Ernie Kempe were there to choose the best horses, some of which were sent to India and others sold in the Adelaide horse sales. Those chosen for India went over for remounts and artillary horses. All up, Charlie and his team arrived at Edwards Creek with close to nine hundred head of horses after completing one of the longest horse musters known at the time. He was aided by a plant of sixty horses, a part-aboriginal cook and ten aboriginal stockmen and he covered some one hundred and sixty miles.

Charlie had earned his stripes and the respect of his employers and was chosen to manage Durrie Station in Queensland, becoming the youngest of Kidman’s managers at the age of 26. There happened to be a fetching governess on the neighbouring Morney Station who caught Charlie’s eye. He wooed her and married her in Brisbane in 1931, and parted company with the Kidman Cattle Company. He took his new wife, Jess, back to his old stamping grounds in South Australia, having secured a job managing a property for the Stock & Station Agents, Goldsborough Mort & Co. Ltd.

South Australia was suffering in a drought that drove many property owners to ruin. Many walked off their properties as they were heavily indebted to the Stock & Station Agents who were not prepared to support them any longer. Three such properties were Mt. Dare, Dalhousie Springs and Federal. Charlie was appointed to manage them as one and live at Mt. Dare.

It was Mt. Dare that changed Jess from a “refined lady of poor means” into a feisty and strong lady, determined to survive the ravages and trials of life in the bush. She learnt to get around her new husband’s penchant for control, his constant nitpicking and carping. She learnt to listen and heed advice from the aborigine women; advice which they offered shyly and, uncannily, at times when she needed it most. She learnt that because Charlie always knew best, it was not wise to let him know she placed any credence on the wise counsel of her aboriginal friends.

When the drought broke and the Stock and Station Agents sold Mt Dare, Charlie and Jess moved to Lambina Station which job came to an end when a flood washed away the homestead. Charlie, Jess, their two kids and three boring contractors survived the flood perched in a tree for 18 or so hours.

The flood put paid to Charlie’s job at Lambina and, after taking up positions at a couple of other properties in the area which turned out quite unsuitable, the family (now increased by two)  rented a cottage in Oodnadatta where Charlie took a job with SA Railways as a ganger, a sort of stop-gap job to provide an income whilst he kept a close eye out for the opportunity to get back to the stockman’s life he loved.

Charlie placed the pocket knife back in the metal box and leaned back against the cushions.    Weariness was his constant companion as he struggled against the pain of breathlessness and aching bones that had dogged his 89th year of life.  Only the memories remained clear in his mind to play out like a never ending movie of a long life in the bush.

As his life ebbed away, Charlie quietly let go.  Now he’s easy at last and free of the pain and struggles of living.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Party Dress

 

Sister Josephine was preparing the younger boarders for their First Holy Communion. Six little girls were fortunate to have doting mothers who supplied them with brand new white dresses and veils. One little girl, Cathy, didn’t even have a mother, let alone a doting one. She did have a loving father though, but he lived a long way away.

Cathy was shy and unsure of herself. She wore spectacles with lenses so thick they were ugly and gave her only slightly improved vision. She withstood the taunts of the other children by withdrawing so far within herself it was hard to reach her.

“Jillian,” Sister Josephine said, “see if you can find a white dress for Cathy. Look on the spare rack.”

At the end of the girls dormitory there was a large closet which housed a rack of ‘best’ clothes, suitcases and a big box containing costumes and other ‘dress-up’ paraphenalia. There was a second rack of clothing left by girls who’d moved away.

Jillian, being one of the older girls, was Sister Josephine’s helper for the Holy Communion class. Obediently, she went at once to the rack and very soon came across a dress that sent her reeling back to her birthday six years before. The soft blue had faded to white and it was creased, but it was still the prettiest dress in the whole world.

It was her eighth birthday and Jillian recalled that wonderful Saturday morning when her mother came and took her out of the Convent for the day. “Come Jillian,” she said, taking her hand. “we are going to have a lovely birthday.”

They had morning tea in the town’s only coffee shop-come café. They had iced chocolate and cream puffs filled with a delicious vanilla custard topped with a blob of mock cream. Fresh cream was only for those who owned a milking cow or goat. Even milk was the reconstituted variety. It came in powered form in tins with bright green labels. A big, yellow smiling sun declared the contents ‘Sunshine Milk’.

Next door to the café were two shops. One housed the local hairdresser and beauty salon, and the other was a fashion boutique catering for all ages. The window display was changed daily. On this day the theme was party wear designed to tempt the town’s girls and ladies to buy a chic new outfit for upcoming events on the social calendar. The frothy blue organdie dress trimmed with fine lace and embroidered rosebuds, stood out like a beacon in the display.

Marion gazed at the dress in the window and imagined her daughter’s delight. It was very expensive but she threw caution to the winds, and entered the shop pulling Jillian behind her. The dress was a perfect fit and to complete the outfit she was fitted with a pair of white patent leather shoes and white socks.

“Look in the mirror, Jillian. You look so lovely, darling. Isn’t this the prettiest frock you’ve ever seen?”

Jillian didn’t recognise the figure in the mirror. “She doesn’t look like me, Mummy. It is the prettiest dress in the whole world. Can I keep it on?”

“Of course you can, darling. Just wait until Miss Golder sees you at lunch; she will think she has a princess at her table. She is making you a special birthday cake and other nice things which you can take back to the Convent to share with the other girls.”

Hazel Golder owned a boarding house, providing quiet and homely accommodation for people coming to town from outlying stations. When she learned of Jillian’s birthday she offered to put on a special lunch for the occasion.

Normally a shy girl, Jillian beamed with confidence. She had that warm, fuzzy feeling of happiness and felt very much like Cinderella must have felt when she went to the ball. She couldn’t wait to hear the ‘oohs and aahs’ when she went back to the Convent.

It was such a lovely day, Jillian remembered as she held the dress. A lovely day forever spoiled. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she recalled. Marion handed her over to the sister in charge of the dormitory and kissed her goodbye. Sister Veronica’s smiles changed to sneers as soon as her mother was out of earshot.

“Well, you vain little miss. You can go at once and get out of that… that creation.” Sister Veronica hissed angrily. “Vanity is a mortal sin and God will punish you. Get out of my sight NOW”

Jillian turned and ran. Tears fell down her cheeks like rivers and her sobbing made it hard for her to breathe. She didn’t understand why God would punish her for the birthday dress her mother gave her. She couldn’t understand and she thought it must be bad to have a pretty dress. She found a coat hanger and put the dress on the spare rack. She didn’t ever want to see it again. The white patent leather shoes she put in the dress-up box at the back of the closet.

“Jillian,” Sister Josephine called,. “did you find a dress for Cathy?”

Jillian was jolted back to the present. “Coming Sister,” she replied as she wiped her eyes. As she started out of the closet with the dress clutched to her bosom she suddenly thought of the shoes. Hurriedly she opened the dress-up box and, right at the bottom she found them.

“I found these, sister. These shoes might fit Cathy as well.”

Sister Josephine took the dress and turned it this way and that. “It is quite pretty really. I’m sure we can bring it back to looking like new, and the shoes are just right. Lets see if they fit her Jillian.”

Both the dress and the shoes were a perfect fit. Sister Josephine was pleased. “Now all we need for Cathy is a veil. I will ask Sister Berenice to make one for her.”

On the day of the First Communion there were seven little girls, dressed in white, sitting in the front pew of the little chapel. All through the special service Jillian’s thoughts and eyes were on Cathy whom she knew was experiencing the same warm, fuzzy feelings the dress gave her so long ago. It is not bad to feel and look pretty, she thought. It is not bad at all.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 240 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

THE GREAT MANIPULATORS

The kingmakers

Power hungry controllers of society – The Media

Wikipedia:

The Fourth Estate is a societal and political force or institution, whose influence is not consistently or officially recognised.

Supposedly, the Fourth Estate consists of professional men and women who are trained in the art of journalism, whereby they gather information, without fear or favour, and disperse same to the people.

Supposedly, these journalists abide by a Code of Ethics (regulated by themselves)

When media hyenas gather, someone is torn to pieces. The carcass is fought over so that every morsel is consumed in a feeding frenzy that serves only to quiet the hunger pangs for a short time.

In this country, journalists have always been rated below the used car salesman in the trustworthy stakes. I suspect this is because truth is never allowed to get in the way of a story. Journalists are therefore looked upon as people who eagerly spread gossip and innuendo without any regard to the consequences that might be caused to the victim’s life, reputation and innocent family members.

When one powerful sector in society is allowed/trusted to exercise power without regulation, that power become absolute. Absolute power hides behind the freedoms we all hold dear – i.e. freedom of the press and freedom of speech. When challenged by people who have been hurt, or are concerned that media self-regulation is not working and who call for an independent watchdog to ensure it works, we see those wielding the hammers of absolute power respond by retreating behind the placards of “Freedom” in order to oppose any independent regulation.

The people exercise their democratic right to vote in the government they consider is best for them and the country. So it is a disgrace to our democracy to see the media wield their absolute power by siding with the Opposition parties to overthrow that democratically elected government and install another.

Since the people voted in a hung parliament in 2010 and the Labor Party under the leadership of Julia Gillard negotiated with elected independent MPs and won the right to form government, the media have been complicit in schemes to undermine the government, to trash the reputation of PM Julia Gillard, and to ruin Australia’s economic reputation even though this country’s economy is recognised as “world’s best”. Their complicity, and the actions taken to influence the voting public by spurious reporting, misrepresentation and distortion of policy announcements and pressers by the PM and government ministers, are nothing less than an absolute abuse of the “absolute” power they hold.

There have always been those who rise to the heights of powerful sections of society who will abuse the power they attain, but because of regulations, however weak, they are usually found out and neutralised before too much damage is done, or they are exposed, prosecuted and punished. The self-regulated media which answers to no-one but themselves and which allows deviation from their own code of ethics has embarked on a road that can only end in tears for themselves, for the people and democracy itself.

When we see our own national broadcaster indulging in king-making tactics and offering up partisan political reporting 24/7, mirroring the panel shows of Murdoch/Fairfax journalists interviewing journalists, instead of giving the nation straight factual reporting of the events occurring within the nation, we know we have a feral media abusing ‘absolute’ power in order to influence the people. It is in effect a matter of the people being told – “We will tell you what to think, and when to think it.

Is it any wonder that the 5th Estate has expanded and taken on the task of questioning and endeavouring to sort out the gossip, fiction and partisan propaganda from the actual facts that are happening in front of our own eyes? It is the 5th Estate which is filling in the blanks of information the mainstream media conveniently leave out of reports. It is the 5th Estate which is calling for the journalists of the 4th Estate to do their jobs and question the Opposition (the alternative government) forcefully and insistently, demanding that they come up with more than slogans so that people can compare genuine policies and decide where to place their votes at the election.

The con merchants, the deceivers and the traitors

These are the people who have perfected the art of scattering word flowers and flattery to gain support for dubious schemes and plots. It matters not whether they are endeavouring to enrich their own pockets or to take the next step up towards the platform of power, the recipe is the same:

1. Look professional.
2. Use simple, easily understood language
3. Offer as little real information as possible
4. Hand out glossy leaflets
5. Be sympathetic and understanding
6. Slip in the occasional pointed criticism of your opposition
7. Point to your superior credentials (which may or may not exist)
8. Relate a couple of short happy stories from those you’ve already conned
9. Praise the house, the street, the district, the dog.
10. Promise to fix all problems

Politicians come in all sizes and suits:

Some put their hands up for election because they have a passion to be useful to society.

Some stand for election because they want to be part of the process of creating a better future for those who come after us.

Some choose politics as a career to better themselves and their pockets. Many of these settle into their electorates doing the minimum required to keep their constituents happy enough to give them their vote next time around. These are the whingeing back-benchers who blame the party leader when things get tough and do nothing to shore up support for the party in their electorates. Occasionally, from within this group, come the few who have managed to inveigle themselves to be noticed and put up as being potentially smart enough to be promoted to at least the outer cabinet, if not cabinet itself.

It is not often that large scale treachery emerges within the governing party, but when it does the consequences are dire. It is not unusual for a party leader to be rolled whether in or out of government, but usually, after the initial turmoil surrounding such an event, calm is restored, the party moves on and the deposed leader slinks off to lick his wounds and find another path to fulfilment.

When PM Rudd lost the confidence of his caucus after months of running a dysfunctional government, his colleagues demanded he put his leadership to a vote. After hours of negotiations he agreed to step down in favour of his Deputy, Julia Gillard. He was advised by his friend and colleague not to go to a vote because the low numbers resulting would be embarrassing for him. His emotional press conference after stepping down sent far-reaching shock waves throughout the nation that continued for months because no explanation was given why he was removed from office.

Kevin Rudd was well-liked in the electorates. He always presented with an engaging smile and he could talk the sweet talk. He is an egotist and underneath that smiling veneer lies a bitter, vindictive and vengeful creature who will snipe, undermine, scheme and plan to destroy those in the government he led and, if necessary, the party itself.

The Prime Minister was a gracious victor and showed compassion for the feelings of the man she replaced as leader. She gave him the very senior portfolio of Foreign Minister. This job gave Rudd the chance to use his talents for the good of his country as well as an opportunity to shine on the world stage. It wasn’t enough. The man continued with his underground vendetta which he began halfway through the election campaign, derailing it enough to give Australia its first hung parliament in nearly 70 years.

Kevin Rudd turned out to be a con merchant, a deceiver and a traitor to his Party, to the supporters of the Labor Party, and to his merry band of deluded spear carriers within caucus. He used them all in his bid to seek revenge and – as is common for cowards – he left them to swing in the breeze while he stepped back, fronted the media pleading innocence and declared his dedication and loyalty to a Party he spent more than three years trashing.

In the process, Kevin Rudd trashed his own credibility. So much so that even those in the media who were using his bitterness, his white-anting tactics to overthrow a democratically-elected government and discredit its leader, can no longer trust him.

In an editorial last week, the Daily Telegraph opined:

It is possible in a utopian world that, had Stephen Conroy’s proposed media reforms passed, life would have continued as normal for press and public alike.

It is also possible that in the hands of a spiteful or autocratic government they could have been easily exploited to straitjacket journalism and curtail a meek and hobbled media that would have allowed government irresponsibility, spin and possibly even corruption to flourish.

Self-delusion? Or unadulterated cynicism?

From one of Murdoch’s most strident organs, the answer is obvious.

We in Australia endure a media with the least diversity of ownership of any country other than totalitarian regimes. Self-regulation cannot even be described as a sick joke: it is a fraud through which media proprietors and their willing tools, the journalists, exercise unfettered power without responsibility.

Media reform – including enforceable regulation – is long overdue. The current government still has time to enact the necessary laws. And, just maybe, re-opening the punishment cells at Parliament House could be a pointed reminder to journalists and proprietors of how we expect them to behave.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Argument

THE ARGUMENT

Jane cried out in anguish when she entered the family room. There, gurgling happily at the coffee table was their pride and joy doing his best to paint its surface with something that was sticky and gooey.

There was a trail of splatters and splotches on the floor leading across to the pantry cupboard in the kitchen. On the table was an array of packets, bottles and canisters with lids awry, standing in a mess of spilled sugar, flour and bright green cordial.

Oblivious to the chaos his son was creating around him, Bob snored contentedly in his reclining chair.

“Bob!” Jane yelled angrily as she picked up her son with one hand on his chest and the fingers of the other hooked into the back of his nappy; thus transporting him to the bathroom with a minimum of contact.

Jane’s anger increased as she bathed Timmy and Bob’s sheepish smile and apology didn’t help at all. “For heaven’s sake, Bob, I only left him with you for forty five minutes!”

“Okay, Okay! I said I was sorry, didn’t I?” Bob replied, “I didn’t mean to fall asleep.” He chuckled. “He sure got stuck into it, didn’t he?”

“There’s nothing funny about it,” Jane retorted as she lifted Timmy out of the tub, wrapped him in a towel and took him to his room. Bob followed. “I just don’t know how you could be so…so damned irresponsible. You just don’t care.”

‘Oh, come on now love. It isn’t the end of the world, you know.” Bob tried to reason with his wife, “I simply fell asleep because I was tired…”

“Tired! You don’t know what it is to be tired. I’m the one who is tired. I’m the one who never gets a proper night’s sleep.” Jane’s voice was becoming more strident . She placed Timmy in his playpen and walked out of the room. “And I’m tired of picking up after you,” she said as she picked his briefcase off the hall table and hurled it onto the sofa in the den. Then, with face flushed, she stomped back to the family room and began cleaning up the mess Timmy had made.

Again Bob followed her. “Look, there’s no need to carry on like this, Jane…” he began in a conciliatory tone which suddenly became angry when Jane’s response was to glare at him. “Pick up after me, eh? Well don’t you bloody forget I slave my guts out five days a bloody week for you!” With that he turned and left the room. A few minutes later she heard the front door slam and knew he’d gone to drown his sorrows at the golf club.

Bob’s words slammed around in her brain like the little black ball in the Squash Courts. How dare he try and make me feel guilty. Am I not the one who slaves seven days a week FOR HIM? Am I not entitled to an hour of peace and quiet on a Sunday morning? It is just not fair.

Timmy began to cry. Jane looked across at her son and immediately realised she had been so angry she had ignored him. “Oh Timmy, I am so sorry darling,” she said as she picked him up and cuddled him. “It’s okay.” She glanced at her wristwatch and was amazed to find that a whole hour had passed since the argument with Bob. It had taken her all that time to clean up the mess. With Timmy’s arms around her neck she went into the kitchen to get him a bottle of orange juice.

As the day wore on, Jane tried very hard to put a lid on the seething cauldron deep within her. It wasn’t just the mess, she told herself, it was as much the fact that Timmy might have done himself harm while he was left to own devices. It was so damned irresponsible of Bob.

Jane was also furious that Bob had cut and run. She imagined him at the golf club enjoying the company of his mates. She also imagined him walking in the door and acting as though nothing was amiss. This is what he always did. When he found her still angry he’d turn it all around so that the whole business was her fault. Wasn’t he being conciliatory? Didn’t he say he was sorry? Is he going to be punished for ever over some silly little spat?

It was all too much. “This time, Bob, you are not getting away with it,” Jane announced to the empty room. “This time, I will leave you…I’ll take Timmy and leave.” The very thought brought stinging tears to her eyes and she dissolved into choking sobs. She didn’t hear Bob enter the room.

“Jane, oh Jane darling.” He said as he folded her in his arms. “I am so sorry.” He kissed her forehead and rocked her gently to quieten her sobs. “Please forgive me. I feel sick to my stomach to think what could have happened to Timmy.”

Jane wiped her eyes and looked up into Bob’s face. She saw the anguish in his eyes and knew he was genuinely remorseful. “It’s okay, my love,” she said as she ran her finger down his cheek, “we both got a fright, but nothing terrible happened.”

At that moment there was a gurgling sound from the nursery. Hand in hand, Jane and Bob went in to see their son.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

To Josie’s

I had a few quid to my name back in 1933 when I met Lisa, the tall blonde from Sweden. My mate Wally and I were walking down Hay Street, Perth on our way to The City Bar where we could get a feed for the price of a couple of beers and sixpence.

Unlike the usual pub, The City Bar had an unusual licence in that it could sell grog without being encumbered with the problems of providing accommodation. It was a popular place in the depression years as one could eat his fill of the Oxtail Stew, Curry and Rice or whatever was the going meal of the day.

Wally excused himself to speak to the girl passing by while I waited a discreet distance ahead. After a few minutes he rejoined me and I was quick to reproach him for not introducing me.

“Possess your soul with patience,” he told me with a grin, “we’re meeting her at The Criterion at five thirty.”

After lunch we had a couple of hours to wile away before five thirty so we saw a movie and got to The Criterion Hotel lounge a few minutes before the appointed time. Not wanting my mate to appear a mendicant, I slipped him a ten bob note. He was broke, poor sod, and living off the generosity of his parents.

Wally and I had worked together at the General Motors Assembly Plant in Batavia, Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) some twelve months previously. The reason he was broke and I was pretty flush was that I’d had the good fortune to be laid off after the Dutch Authorities passed legislation that foreign firms terminating the services of an employee other than a Dutch National, must pay a severance pay of four months salary.

This legislation was to ensure that foreigners would have the means to return to their own countries and so relieve the Dutch of the problem of unemployed foreigners as well as their own Nationals.

Since Australia had gone off what was known as the ‘Gold Standard’ and Holland was still on it, I was able to turn my Dutch Gilders into Australian Pounds quite profitably. I ended up back in Australia with a couple of hundred quid, a tidy sum in 1933.

All that is by the by however. Lisa turned up a few minutes after us and as she glided towards our table, I completed my earlier appraisal of her. She was not beautiful by any means but very pleasant on the eye with her rounded face and brown eyes, shapely long legs and well-developed but not overly ample, bosom. She spoke good english with an attractive accent.

After a couple of drinks Wally excused himself to make it home by six thirty when his Mum would have supper on the table. Shortly after he left, Lisa also took her leave but not before agreeing to meet me at five the next afternoon. I watched her walk away and registered the fact that she possessed a particularly beautiful bottom.

I met Wally for lunch at The City Bar the next day and I casually inquired what he knew about Lisa. Had he known her long and where had he met her? He was rather vague, saying he’d met her at a party some time ago when he still had a quid.

“I don’t know her all that well,” Wally said and winked, “if you play your cards right though you might do some good for yourself.”

Given the male chauvinistic attitude towards women back in the thirties I was a pretty decent sort of chap, but even I considered all women to be fair game. My ambition, of course, was to get Lisa into bed and I planned my moves carefully.

I met her that evening as arranged and after a drink or two I took her to a nearby restaurant for a meal. With the evening still young, I suggested we stroll up to Marlborough House where I was living and where there was usually some form of entertainment in the lounge of an evening.

Marlborough House could not be described as anything classy. I suppose a rooming house or better class boarding house would best describe it. The accommodation consisted of rooms of various sizes and you could have bed and breakfast or full board if your pocket would run to it. It had a bar and a lounge for guests only but it was permitted to bring friends in for a drink.

Most guests at Marlborough House were young Civil Servants from various State Government Departments in Perth. There was usually a sing-song or some impromptu entertainment going on as money was too scarce for people to go out on the town looking for amusement. There was no law against entertaining in your room so long as there was a low level of noise after eleven o’clock.

Lisa and I stayed in the lounge until about nine thirty when I suggested we adjourn to my room to listen to records. Whilst in Java I had acquired a German-made portable gramophone. It was built into a container that folded up like a small suitcase and unlike most others of its kind, it had a remarkably excellent tone.

As I had intended to stay in Perth only a short time, I had let my head go and rented a decent room. It contained a small sofa which lent itself perfectly to the tete a tete I had in mind. I placed the gramophone on a chair in front of the sofa where it was within easy reach and produced, with a flourish, a bottle of Frontignac, a dark, sweet fortified wine, Western Australian Vintage, guaranteed by the wine merchant to be the greatest leg-opener this side of the black stump.

The only snag to my plan was the gramophone which provided what seemed like a perfect excuse to entice the lady to my room, was fast becoming a nuisance because it required cranking after each record. It was a continual, frustrating interruption to my otherwise smooth technique.

After a few turns of Richard Tauber’s rendition of songs from The White Horse Inn, I decided to get the show on the road without accompaniment. After four years in the Dutch East Indies, I was a reasonably experienced young seducer but I wasn’t getting far having to leave off to change the record which more or less sent me back to square one.

Mind you, it was all enjoyably erotic and I was learning quite a bit about Lisa in the process. In the early thirties in Sweden, things weren’t too good. The depression was a world wide phenomenon and she came to Australia to live with her Aunt whose husband was a shipping agent in Fremantle for Swedish and Norweigian Shipping Firms. Both these countries were big in the Australian grain trade at the time.

Lisa’s parents were under the impression that jobs were easy to come by in Australia and her uncle, through his shipping connections, obtained a passage for her on a Swedish barge/passenger ship for a reduced fare. She celebrated her twenty-first birthday on route to Australia. She had no special skills, having been educated to the equivalent of our intermediate standard which was three years of high school, and since leaving school she had been employed in a handful of short-duration jobs.

In Australia, her uncle placed her on a part time basis in his office and, according to her, her main duties there were fending off his unwelcome attentions. Rather than cause a family rift, she managed to get a part time job at the Strand Hotel in Hay Street, Perth. She left Fremantle with her ears ringing with her aunt’s tearful reproaches.

Suddenly I felt somewhat of a bastard and on a par with her uncle. Whilst my body cried out for satisfaction, my sense of decency and fair play held me back. It was late when I walked her down to the nearby tram stop and saw her onto the tram she had to catch.

I met her again the following day at the same place – The Criterion Hotel lounge. After we had drinks and a meal I suggested a movie but she had brought some records from Swedish composers she wanted me to hear. I couldn’t believe my luck. I had replenished my supply of Frontignac on the off-chance, as experience taught me that this sex business, whether you call it love or lust, has no timetable. Our acquaintance had been brief but a tenderness was creeping into my feelings for her. I didn’t know it right then but I was actually falling in love.

During the songs and music from The Peer Gynt Suite, I was sucking a pair of lovely tits that thrust out like a cantilever verandah and running my fingers through the blonde bush. In the process, I was developing a most acute case of what the layman might call ‘lovers balls’.

I remember coming up for air and replaying a song called ‘Solveig’s Song’, a lovely sad piece. It was then that she delivered the blow that filled me with a sickening hurt that was worse than the ache in my loins.

She told me she wouldn’t be seeing me again. She was leaving for Kalgoorlie at eight o’clock the next morning. She had got a job, she said, as a waitress in a hotel there, secured for her by the wife of the manager of the Strand where she still occasionally worked. She asked me not to see her off as the taxi that was picking her up would also have another girl who was travelling with her to the same hotel.

Well, what a kick in the guts! I was utterly bereft. Instead of getting the girl into bed I’d fallen head over heels in love with her and now the light seemed to go out of my life. I could offer no alternative as I was due to go north again in a week or so because Perth was absolutely hopeless so far as getting work was concerned.

The shock of having the rug pulled out from under me was enough to dampen my ardour and my first instinct was to bid her farewell as soon as possible. I walked her to her tram stop and then got so involved in a last kissing session that we missed her last tram and I had to walk her a further half mile to a taxi rank.

It was just two days later when I met Wally as we’d arranged previously. We went to the nearest pub, The Goldfields, and settled in for a session. I made no mention of Lisa but eventually he brought up her name and asked if I’d done any good for myself.

I told him the whole sad story and expressed the hope that Lisa would get a better break in Kalgoorlie than she had experienced in Perth.

“Don’t worry, mate,” he said, “Lisa has something she can always fall back on.”

Dumbly I asked him what he meant exactly.

He was silent for awhile and then shrugged his shoulders. “You might as well know the truth about Lisa,” he said, “I didn’t meet her at a party. I first made her acquaintance when she was working at Josie’s.”

Now Josie’s was a famous whorehouse in Roe Street, Perth the city’s brothel district. The brothels in Perth were not licensed but no matter the political complexion of the Government in Western Australia at anytime, the brothels had official sanction. The police had instructions to leave the madams and the girls alone unless there was some untoward incident which warranted attention.

“Oh, she a drink waitress then?” says I, my rose coloured glasses still firmly in place.

“No,” he corrected me gently, “she was one of Josie’s girls.”

For a few moments I couldn’t take it in. I’d known Wally for three years in Java and I knew he was a truthful bloke. He was the last one to rubbish anyone let alone a girl. I would have liked to have stopped right there but I had to know.

“I suppose you….” I stopped, unable to put it into words.

Wally, with surprising delicacy relieved me of the need to say the painful words. “Yes,” he said, “I did – several times when I was in the money. She was very popular. You more or less had to stand in line.”

I was desolated. I had a ghastly vision of my lovely Lisa lying with a score of randy males and I just bowed my head and look down into the depths of my beer. Eventually I looked up. “Well, I’ll be buggered.” I said a trifle bitterly and took a long gulp of my beer.

Wally smiled a gentle compassionate smile. “Yeah. It’s a tough old world.” He raised his glass, “To Josie’s!”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Public Servant

Public servants are those workers Tory governments love to sack.

In fact, the Tories have spent many decades putting the perception out in the community that public servants are lazy, good-for-nothing parasites living off the public purse by taking from, rather than contributing to, the nation’s economy.

Having got themselves elected into power, Tory governments immediately jump on their razing machines and drive them through every department on a sacking spree, and all to the sounds of applause from brainwashed, ignorant voters.

Well, I have the privilege of knowing, meeting and working with hundreds of these maligned souls. I was a public servant at one point in my life and I even married one in another. My time as a public servant was in the days when the vast interior of this nation was being opened up. So a brief trip down memory lane reminds me of how it used to be in the wilds of Central Australia, The Top End and Western Queensland.

The people who lived and worked in remote areas were, and still are, resourceful and innovative souls who survived, and even shrugged off, the angry fits of mother nature as well as the harsh, unforgiving demands of the bush, the mind boggling isolation and loneliness and crippling fears that the lack of medical help in emergency situations brought. These people, the pioneers of the outback, were tough and resilient and really, a unique brand of the human species.

The small towns/settlements survived and even grew because of the public service which offered employment and expertise across the board. An itinerant population, public servants came and moved on after 2 – 5 years. They brought with them new ideas, expertise, friendship and just plain old elbow grease which they gave unstintingly as they settled into the communities like gloves. Some became so entwined that they couldn’t leave and if they did leave, many of them returned to take up where they left off to become permanent residents.

The small township of Alice Springs benefited greatly from the public service sector which was the hub for distributing services for that half of the Northern Territory. With the public servants came a wide range of skills and the local people, long used to wasting nothing in their battle for survival in the harsh environment, were quick to recognise and put those skills to good use. There were local talent scouts who made it their business to greet new arrivals and put them through a friendly interrogation so as to learn in which slot they could be filed for future needs.

Characters/personalities:

Geoff Moss’ hometown was Broome, WA. He’d been an enterprising young man who had been places and learnt much from his experiences. He had spent time working in Java as a young man and was a public servant based in Darwin when the Jap bombs rained down. Geoff retired from the public service in Alice Springs where he was a well known and loved Senior Clerk and 2IC in the Department of Works. He left behind a wealth of respect and admiration from all who’d had the pleasure of working with him over his long years of service, and his name was well known throughout the Service from Darwin to Melbourne.

Mossy was a chain smoker and the only person I’ve ever come across who used the language that would make a sailor blush in a manner that even a “lady” didn’t notice or take offense. Funnily enough, when angry or frustrated, his language was no worse than calling someone a “puddin’headed bastard”. He was a gentle man with a deep sense of compassion – the type of man who distressed or worried people turned to for advice or comfort. He possessed a delightful aura of patience and tranquillity.

When Head Office sent Department heads up to the Territory to check on operations, or as some said, to put the skids under the bushies, it was Mossy who was delegated to look after them, show them around and do his best to explain the whys and wherefores of processes and management of projects and personnel that might differ from those in other environments.

The wise ‘inspectors’ asked the questions and listened to the answers. These sessions were often carried out in the middle of nowhere, sitting on a camp stool by the fire with a glass of red, after supping on a thick rump steak cooked on the blade of a shovel resting on red hot coals. These people went back to Head Office with a good understanding of the workings of the bush, its people and the way the government departments went about delivering the services to the best advantage of all.

There were always the pedants and know-alls among the visiting Heads of Departments. These came with closed minds and went away without having learnt anything. A few weeks after a visit from such person/s a letter would turn up on Mossy’s desk setting out a list of perceived inappropriate practices and orders for fixing same. Mossy read these missives dutifully and passed them onto the Admin Officer with an appropriate notation for action.

One of the most memorable of these letters from Head Office was in an election year when all Departments were inundated with HO visitors looking for ways to save money. Along with a few other money saving orders was the one about the ablution blocks. The “cost cutter” noted that the night cart was emptying half-filled pans on a daily basis. Therefore, he calculated that X amount of dollars could be saved annually if only full cans were emptied. Mossy’s eyebrows raised and he shook his head in astonishment as he muttered “puddin-headed bastard” and wrote his usual notation for action on the bottom of the letter – it read… Ted, for daily calibration, please.

Mossy’s “action notations” on the bottom of Department HO letters were to cause much amusement and interest through the Department of Works as they were shown around and anecdotes passed on verbally at social events.

The Department of Works had crews working in isolated places all over the Territory. These crews built roads, bridges and maintained the windmills on the stock routes. In town the workshop mechanics maintained the vehicles and machinery and solved all sorts of problems. In the bush everyone helped everyone else and the public service was no exception – if someone out in whoop-whoop needed something and there was a departmental vehicle passing by, then that vehicle did a small detour to deliver it. The Department had a system where property owners could ‘borrow’ items such as bore casing they needed desperately and which would be ‘returned’ as soon as supplies in town were replenished.

The Department employed a man called Sam Irvine, supplied him with a grader and small caravan, and he spent his time grading all the bush ‘highways’. On weekends, he often graded the road into a property for a price negotiated between the property owner and himself. I remember there was a little furore once when someone complained about the misuse of public money, but the practice continued, albeit less openly.

Sam was a big congenial man. He kept a supply of boiled lollies in his van and his grader which he dolled out to any kids tagging along with the parent/s who stopped by to pass the time of day when he happened in their neck of the woods. Everyone and his dog knew Sam and admired him for his work – they all said he could make a grader talk.

The Department’s working crews were equipped with a radio to keep them in touch with the office. Talk sessions were scheduled for a specific time each morning, when problems were reported and orders placed for equipment, spare parts and the like. These blokes spent weeks out in their work camps and relied on a fortnightly supply truck to bring their mail and other supplies, and also they relied on deliveries made by the passing traffic of pastoralists. Radio communication was restricted to non-personal orders but the camp dwellers had no other means to order their personal requirements. Therefore a code system was devised where the base operator took strange and frequent orders for certain goods – there was a code for placing their bets on the horses, for ordering a case of beer, rum or whisky. These orders were dutifully placed with the supplier who delivered said orders to the Department of Works in time to be loaded on the next supply truck delivering to the various camps. An inspector looking over some of the orders was known to remark that the blokes in the camps had a certain fondness for lemon squash or cola soft drinks. Of course, the men out in the camps all held accounts with their bookies and supply stores and their accounts were settled in full when they returned to base, so there was no defrauding of the commonwealth.

Election years brought an influx of politicians throughout the Territory. Menzies was known for sacking the Indians in the Public Service in the first year after an election and employing another lot in the third year. There was always a flurry of activity in an election year and up in the Top End there was endless frustration that road building projects etc were given the green light in the wet season. One year a frustrated engineer put in a request for boats and outboard motors, plus some wet suits and snorkels. Menzies had promised an all weather road from Katherine to Timber Creek and wanted to tell voters that it was underway ‘as we speak’.

Darwin Construction Office was plagued by urgent requests by engineers and project supervisors for working crews and equipment. One such request was for axe handles which, the Darwin Stores manager advised were available by the dozen in their Katherine Store. The Project Manager replied Katherine Store had no bloody axe handles. It turned out after a lot of expletives pouring in to the Darwin Stores Office, that the young storeman in Katherine had what the Project Manager described as a bloody mountain of axe handles that he called brush hook handles, which he refused to book out as axe handles. Problem solved as soon as the order was changed to Brush hook handles.

Without the much maligned Public Service and the resourcefulness, humour and abilities of its personnel, the remote areas of this country might well be still languishing back in the dark ages. The Department of Works and Construction with its small army of engineers and architects who designed and supervised the construction of the infrastructure that enabled the townships to flourish were the salt of the earth, and all public servants contributed much to the communities in which they lived and worked.

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments