Merry Christmas Old Man

Summers on Andado Station were always very hot and dry. There were long periods when no rain fell, so Charlie spent his time doing the ‘bore run’ checking that there were no problems with the windmills and ensuring there was water for the cattle.

There were several bores equipped with windmills as well as pump engines so that if there was insufficient wind to turn the mills then it meant starting the engine to fill the 30,000 gallon stock tanks. It was a constant round of riding from one bore to the next which were about ten miles apart.

This particular year, Charlie was on his pat malone as Jessie and the kids were having time off in Alice Springs, and the boss had gone to Adelaide on business. He made his main camp at Mt. Pebbles Bore where he needed to use the engine to pump water to the tanks more frequently. There had been rain on the lower half of the property which meant there was water for the cattle in streams and clay pans, relieving the stress on the stock tanks down that end.

On Christmas Eve, after checking out the water situation at West Bore, Charlie turned his horse and headed for the homestead. After ensuring all was well there, he planned to add a little luxury to his tucker box. He knew there was a carton of port wine under the counter in the store room . The boss, he reasoned, wouldn’t begrudge him a christmas drink.

When Charlie opened the storeroom door he was stunned to see the floor littered with the bodies of rats. As he scanned the room he could see rats hanging precariously from the shelving and others trying desperately to scamper away. He took a bag from the hook inside the door and picked up little bodies as he proceeded inside.

At the counter he reached underneath for the carton of port wine and all became clear. The carton had one side eaten out and empty bottles lay on their sides. Of the twelve bottles, only two remained standing. One had the cork eaten out and the wine level below the neck of the bottle. Charlie thought he was damned lucky the alcoholic rats left him the one bottle which he added to his supplies in his saddle bag.

By the time Charlie had cleared away the dead and drunken rats, the sun had disappeared behind the sand dunes and there was a storm building up. He spurred his horse on in the hope that he’d make the shelter of the engine shed at West Bore before the storm reached it.

Just when the shelter was in sight, the storm hit and the rain came down in torrents, drenching both horse and rider. At the shed he dismounted and reached to tie the horse’s rein to a post by the engine shed door. It was at that precise moment that there was a deafening clap of thunder, closely followed by a brilliant flash of lightening. The horse reared up in fright and took off into the night at full gallop.

When daylight came Charlie was dismayed to see the mill had broken a connecting rod in the storm and it took him a couple of hours to fix it. He now had to use shanks’ pony and find his horse which, he knew, would have headed for his camp at Mt.Pebbles. It was a three mile hike before he came across the horse standing dejectedly with his head down, with the saddle bags hanging under his neck. There was sugar spilling out in a gentle stream to make a nice little pile of white sand near its front hoof.

They reached camp at Mt.Pebbles about 2pm and Charlie set about making himself Christmas dinner. It was blowing a cold breeze of fine drizzle and he sat on an oil drum beside the camp fire. He opened the bottle of port wine and poured some into his pannikin. He cut a couple of thick slices of damper and between the two slices added thick slices of salt beef topped with tomato sauce.

A bite of damper sandwich, a mouthful of port wine….. and a hissing noise stopped his chewing. He looked down and there, just a couple of feet away, was a seven foot long, battled scarred, perentie.

“Merry Christmas, old man.” Charlie greeted the big reptile. “Want some tucker?” He threw down a lump of damper and a lump of salt beef which was accepted and eaten with relish.

“Well,” Charlie laughed, “since it’s christmas, how about a drink, eh?” He put a nip of wine in a log cabin tobacco tin and put it down on the ground.

The perentie lapped up the wine as though it was something always on his menu. More damper, more meat and more wine, until finally his appetite was sated. He waddled off contentedly in the direction of a clump of salt bush to sleep off his full belly.

From then on the perentie turned up every meal time to share Charlie’s fare. He didn’t seem to mind the absence of wine to wash down the damper and salt meat.

Charlie considered the perentie a mate and called him ‘Old Crock’. He was always delighted when he stopped at Mt.Pebbles Bore and Old Crock waddled up to greet him, and he always made sure his saddle bag contained a handout to offer his Christmas Day companion.

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