Tag Archives: bush life

Riders in the Chariot

I am currently reading Riders in the Chariot, and I can relate to so much of what is in the book. I grew up not in Sarsaparilla but in Marayong. There were few houses in our section. We lived on property and I watched the development over the years, as the cucumber farm became Niranda Drive with all of its tiny little houses and tiny little yards.

I can relate to so many different types of people with their cultures and traditions. Most of my friends and neighbours were true blue Aussies. This was a time when there was no such thing as political correctness. Frank was the Maltese guy. Mr Sartori was a wog, and Mr de Sousa was a black guy. That’s just the way it was.

Unlike Riders in the Chariot, we didn’t discriminate against others who were different. We were certainly curious, but we were young and bold and asked the questions that one would surely not dare to ask now.

Neighbours helped each other out. We had bush fires every summer. Most of the property was just grassland. We always had a supply of wet hessian bags ready in case a flame was seen leaping up the embankment from the creek.

Us boys were always the first to spot a grass fire happening. More often that not we were out in the back yard pretending to be Dennis Lillee or the Chappell brothers. I bowled spin so I was always Richie Benaud or Rick McCosker. Derek de Silva couldn’t be an Aussie cricketer though, and Sri Lanka hadn’t become a world team at that stage, so we always picked out Indian cricket names for Derek and his brother Cliff to be.Image result for backyard cricket

We played in the yard, or later in the back streets (those that were developed to butt our property) until the street lights made a halo for the moths to circle round. Then Mum would open the back door and call out and we know we had little time to say goodbye to our friends and get in to wash up for dinner.

We had a small strip of shops. There was the bottlo, owned by the Swans, who were my friends grandparents. I got to work there in my teens, in the store room. The heavy work made both my muscles and those of my friend Brad ripple as the sweat glistened. We certainly earned out cokes. Next door to that was the Milk Bar where you could buy clinkers for a cent each, redskins for 5 cents, or chocolate buttons and freckles for 2 for 1 cent.

Mr Fullers butchers was next door to the Milk bar, then the chemist, Franklins supermarket and the post office. Mr Fitzgerald’s Newsagency, who I worked for as a paperboy, was the last in the line for a few years. Later, a hardware store, a hairdressers and a takeaway built on the end of the strip.

We knew the names of all the shop keepers, and the lady on the railway station who checked our train passes as we got off the train after school, or later put holes in our little green cardboard tickets to ensure they weren’t used again.

We had our share of eccentric people too. Across the bridge was old Wally, whose wife had left him because of drinking problems. Father Burns was the local priest who shouted at us from the pulpit. We were too scared to sin, not because of the threat of Hell, but because of the terror of telling our sins to Father Burns who would give us 900 Hail Marys to say or else we would never be forgiven.

In the house on the corner lived an older lady and her 2 girls. That’s right, Mrs Ferguson. Her daughters were redheads and we always liked pulling their hair. It was so thick tied in the ponytail, it was just like a pony’s tail. Their house was made of wood. The floor went down a slope to the kitchen, and up again to get to the girls bedrooms, where we often played dressups.

Mrs Ryan was my kindergarten teacher at St Andrews Catholic School. She was old when she taught me, but even older as she walked past our house each day coming home from the shops when I was in high school. She never failed to give me a smile and say hello.

Mrs Hope lived 2 doors up from me. She also had 2 daughters. one was away at University, and the other was my age, but I am sure she didn’t go to my primary school. They were well to do people. When you walk in their house you can smell the old money. It had a number of highly polished ebony furniture pieces. I often went there just to play the pianola. The house was draped in Wisteria vines and smelled wonderful on a summers day. Hers was a house with plenty of exotic shade trees that cooled the house in summer. It was unlike my own yard which was full of Gum trees, and paperbacks and tea trees. They offered greenery, but it was harsh. The shade was way up high and provided little relief from the dusty heat on the ground.

We had blackberries. They bordered the property between our place and the council land next door. Mum would send us out to fill a bucket for pies and jam. We would fill her bucket, but also fill our tummies. The quickest way to get blackberry stains off your fingers is to rub an unripe one on the stains. You had to be careful in the patch. That’s where the redbelly black snakes lived. We never thought to kill them though, we were just respectful. It was their home after all.

Image result for blackberry bushes

We made tree houses and cubby houses. We had vegetable gardens and ducks and chooks and dogs, and sometimes turtles. I would go to the chinamen’s garden at the top of the hill to ask them for some worms to feed my turtles.

Besides playing in the creek next door and having camping adventures down there, where we sat up all night catching carp, we also had a little sewerage creek where we caught tadpoles and small frogs. or we caught tadpoles with legs that would soon become frogs. We often found frill necks, blue tongues or common eastern skinks.

The birdlife was pretty ordinary back then. There were no scavenger birds that you see now. There were magpies, big ones. There were cockies, and the occasional crow, but that’s about it. We would sometimes catch eels down the creek. We didn’t like the eels, you couldn’t eat them. So we always left them out for the birds to eat, or put them on the road and watch the trucks run over them. We were cruel I guess. Kookaburras filled the trees when a storm was coming. We knew that when they started singing, to run and help mum pull the washing off the line and get the animals fed before the rain came.

It’s all gone now. The house is still there, but all the land is built upon by medium density housing. People live in each others pockets. They don’t know who their neighbour is. They don’t know the names of the shopkeepers and I don’t think the train station even has a person working there any more.

There is nothing rustic about Marayong any more. It’s Polished, prim and proper. Each house has at least one car and children are not seen playing or riding bikes on the streets. Nobody walks to school. The scout hall is long gone. The creek now has cement where once there were banks of green grass, that somewhere along there was  hidden the treasure that the bank robbers stole in 1928. We searched but never found it.

Is it progress? People moved to Marayong to get a share of the good life. But too many people came, and now the good life has moved out with the original landholders. Nobody can leave their doors open anymore. nobody sits in the doorways of their garages, with the lawn chairs out, sharing a beer with all the locals while listening to the footy on the transistor. Those days are gone with the Mr Whippy vans.

We were all riders in the old VW that we drove around the back yard. It was our Chariot. We all had our dreams and visions of the future, but there was no real divine revelations. Now that chariot is gone. We mourn the days of our youth and the freedom it offered. Gone are the days when the biggest decision was if I wanted a choc top or a fairy cone. We lament regarding the loss of the bushland and space but instead buy our own McMansions with their 4 square meters of lawn to mow.

I guess its time to grow up and move on.

Dave

 

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Winning big

R1-OakleighGirl-x360x180Winning Big, (Part one)

© Dave McGettigan 5 November 2013 (Melbourne cup day)

After leaving school, Jenny had managed to talk the publican of the Arms hotel to give her a start as a barmaid. She went into TAFE to get the special certificates she needed for serving alcohol and for gambling places.

Jenny went to Grandma, who in her time was a barmaid herself.

“I need to know how to mix them fancy cocktails that people drink Gran” Jenny said.

“I don’t know nothing about em”, explained Granny, putting her teeth in because she had company, and scratching her hair to rid of the lice. “Back in my day, men drank beer, women drank shandies and the youngsters drank lemon squash out in the beer garden.

Since they didn’t have the internet hooked up on the wheat farm she called home, Jenny went to the local library to search out on the web how to make these drinks that everybody wanted these days.

At first, Brett, the publican, didn’t know what to make of these concoctions that Jenny was making but they seemed to be a hit with the younger set that came into town for a Saturday night dance. Jenny asked Brett to buy all these new fangled soft drinks and spirits that he had never heard of.

“Gotta move with the times I guess” he thought to himself. “I’m taking a gamble on ya girl, don’t let me down or cost me money” Brett warned Jenny.

Jenny got all excited. Giving Brett a kiss on the cheek “I won’t, you’ll see”

Jenny searched long and hard for new recipes. Soon Jenny had drinks for all occasions. Christmas saw drinks such as White Sangria, or Pomegranate Pimms. While for race day she had one for called the Flemington fling, and while punters were winning and losing money on the horse races, Brett was winning it big at the bar.

He got Jenny to teach a few of the others how to make those special drinks, while he was content serving the old timers their ‘schooners of new’. They made a formidable team.

Jenny convinced Brett to hire a chef and reopen the bistro which had closed for lack of patrons some years back. They were tossing up between having original Aussie cuisine for the tourists, and giving the locals something different when they met young David Sarawut. David’s Father was Thai and mother was Aussie. David had finished his chef apprenticeship in Sydney and was looking for a quiet country life away from the big city. With David’s experience and background, they offered diners the best of both worlds. Some of the locals dared to indulge in the oriental cuisine but most sticked to the tried and tested meat and two veg (with chips and gravy of course).

The new restaurant attracted curious locals, and tourists were drawn to the neon sign “All Thaied Up” with a cowboy hat and rope prominent in the display. The mix proved a big success. Business was booming for the Walgett Arms hotel.

On the upper floors were some accommodation rooms where Brett and David resided and where Jenny was contemplating moving to, now that she had a full time job there, and the farm was a long way out of town. She begged her parents until they relented and agreed only after seeing that her room was to be in a different part of the building to the boys. Mum even made her a new doona for the double bed Jenny would now be occupying, after only having a single at home. She insisted on helping Jenny move in, tut tutting at the dust and cleaning the bathroom before anything was permitted past the threshold.

With Jenny now moved into town, I get to have a room to myself. I moved her old bed out into the shed, and spread my horse memorabilia around. I set up a TV and DVD player in my room, so I could watch Idol and X factor without getting ribbed by the boys and dad. I also convinced dad to get the internet connected. I told him I really needed it to research for school, and he could do all the weather reports and crop yield forecasts by email. “You make sense girl”, was all he said about it before we saw the Telstra truck come up the drive a few days later. Seems to me he had already decided. You don’t get service that fast out here.

Things were a bit tough because of the drought but the pub was booming. Jenny asked Brett about opening up the other accommodation rooms for guests coming through town, and for shearers and farm hands who had too much booze on a Saturday night to drive back to the farm. The local Sergeant was on the lookout for drink drivers on Saturday nights and didn’t care that a bloke had to drive and have a licence to be able to work.

Brett and David moved up to the third floor with Jenny, and the second level was given over to guestrooms. Mum got a job housekeeping there three days a week, including Sunday after church which was her busiest time. She got me a job working with her on Sundays but wouldn’t let me work more with my HSC being only a few months away. Dad took the boys home after church and reckoned it was a good deal because they got to watch the footy on TV without interruptions when we were at work. Then he would bring the boys in and we all had dinner in All Thaied Up on Sunday nights.

It was me who first spotted the sparkle in Jenny’s eyes whenever David spoke to her. They both got Mondays off, and Jenny had decided to show David all the sights around Walgett. Not that there was much to see mind you, but they always seemed to find something to occupy their days off. I spotted them together one Monday afternoon when I was passing through town on the school bus on the way home. David was holding Jenny’s hand while they were walking along slowly the way that lovers do in movies. I knew it was serious because Jenny was wearing a dress. And her hair was flowing instead of being pinned up “all sensible”.

I was a bit upset a few weeks later, when my important study was interrupted by a knock on my bedroom door. “Come in”, I said, closing the One Direction magazine I had hidden inside my biology textbook. The door opened to reveal a bashful Jenny. She had a silly smile on her face as she sat on my bed.

“G’day”, I said, “What’s up with the smile?”

“I wanted to tell you something, and ask you something. I’m not interrupting am I? I know how important your studies are.”

“Just spit it out sis, you already ruined my concentration” I said making her feel even more guilty.

“David and I are moving in together” she whispered.

“Shit! Don’t tell mum, she will freak.” I exclaimed in a loud whisper.

“Oh don’t worry; we are not doing it until… AFTER THE WEDDING!” she screamed. I jumped up and screamed along with her. We were both screaming and jumping when dad entered the room.

“Oi, you two, quieten down, Landline is on the telly”. He said with a smile, clearly not upset. “Good onya girl, reckon you picked a winner there” and he closed the door, leaving us girls to make secret plans.

Jenny showed me the ring, told me all about David’s old fashioned proposal, even down to the point where he asked our dad for Jenny’s hand in marriage. I got out a paper and pen and started a list of things we had to do to prepare for the wedding.

“Slow down girl”, jenny said. “We are not getting married till November. We have plenty of time, and you have…”she picked up my textbook off the desk, and the magazine fell out with Niall Horan looking her in the eyes, smiling his winning smile. “Biology to study for?”

“So what did you want to ask me?” I questioned changing the subject.

“A couple of things,” she started “number one, Will you be my bridesmaid?”

With that, I started screaming with joy all over again “AAAhhh… of course I will. Oh my God, what will I wear?”

“Well, not your jodhpurs that’s for sure.” She laughed “Don’t worry we will get that all sorted. The second thing, and mum has already said its ok, can I teach you how to be a barmaid so you can fill in while I am away on my honeymoon?”

“Yeah righto, I can do that”, I said confidently.

“Brett has said it will be good to work alongside another pretty Coleman girl and will offer you regular hours once you get your certificates”. Jen announced.

“That’s awesome.” I was already dreaming of what I would spend the money on. “It can only be for a year though. I am going to Uni to be a vet after my gap year”.

“It’ll be great getting to spend more time with my sis,” Jen said “and in the quiet times, you can help me with dress ideas and music and stuff for the wedding.”

“Cool, since it’s gonna be in the spring racing carnival time, we can do a horse theme and I can sing ‘Winner takes it all’, and ‘Everyone’s a winner baby’.”

“Not on your Nelly” Jen laughed; my horse’s nickname being Nelly. “I just want a traditional white wedding, with standard music, the bridal waltz and then we are out of there, and on our way to honeymoon, in Thailand.”

“Oh, spoil all my dreams”, I smiled “but have it your way. You know I will help anyway I can.”

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