by Bob retired
Quill Award 2014 -Winner - " Best Collection - non-fiction."
|A Bottle Of Coke
"Geez! Uncle jack, where are we goin? We been drivin for hours and there's nothin out here."
" Don't worry George, it's only another half hour or so, and we'll be in Coonamble. Then another forty miles to the property where we will be working. You'll soon settle in and have a great time. It's a bit different out here from Sydney though, isn't it?"
"You're damn right it is, I'm thirsty and I want a bottle of coke. Where's the next shop?"
"Coonamble, George, they have shops. I'm sure you can get some coke there."
"Okay, we're out in the bush but I don't see any kangaroos or emus or dingoes or abos or anything; where are they all?"
"I think they are all sleeping or resting. They feed in the early morning and around sunset, but they don't like roads much anyway, so they go somewhere else. As for the aboriginals; most of them live in towns in this part of the country, just like we do."
"Where is the real 'bush', where no one lives and the abos still have their tribes and all that stuff?"
"Most of the land is farmed in some way or other now. But I believe there are still a few places where the aboriginals live just the same way they always have. Not round here though, all this open land belongs to someone."
George was on his first excursion away from the city. He was my nephew and was always wanting to come with me to see 'the bush' for himself. I offered him the chance to come and he took it. But he was hooked on coca cola, and so far he had missed out on his fix. We kept driving and only stopped when necessary for fuel or food. We would lunch in Coonamble and that should satisfy George's hunger for his 'coke.'
I stopped outside the Stock and Station Agent in Coonamble and went inside to get final directions the Williams farm. Tom and George went across the road to a Cafe and sat themselves down. I soon joined them and the first thing George asked for when we gave our orders was: "A bottle of coke, please." When lunch was finished we climbed back in the truck and headed west. George nursed his bottle of coke until it was all gone.
"Where's the next shop? My coke's all gone."
"There is no next shop George, and there won't be until we come back this way after the shed is built. It won't be too bad, you know, it's only an open machinery shed and won't take more than a week."
"A week! What am I gunna drink till then?"
"How about water? Or perhaps a cup of tea?"
"Don't like tea and water is only for washin with. I gotta have my coke."
The last bit of the trip to William's farm was along a dusty track, about six miles of it. We eventually came to what I would call an oasis. The farm house and buildings were set in amongst a veritable green forest and looked a picture as we drove up. Bill Williams himself met us, introduced himself and showed us the quarters we would use for the next week or so while we built his shed.
"It's not far to the shed area so you will be able to come to the house for meals and eat with us."
"Got any coke?"
"No young feller, I used the last of it to wash the squashed grasshoppers off my car."
" George, that wasn't very nice, what happened to your manners?"
"Geez, uncle Jack, I need a coke, don't I?"
"Come on George, we will unload and get on with the job. Please ignore George, Bill, he is from the city and will learn quickly what life is like out here."
"No problem, Jack, I have had city boys out here before. He'll be right by the end of the week."
"You're very quiet Tom, are you OK?"
"I was thinking of my nephew and his first trip out of town. He was just the same as George. He learned pretty quick when he had to drink water. Come on George, you can pick your spot to sleep."
We unloaded our beds and such into the shearer’s quarters and went down to the shed site to check it out and make sure all the bits and pieces we needed had been sent. We had been caught out once before, when the bolts to hold the shed together were missing. Everything was there. We wasted no time and started setting the foundations out. Bill Williams made the digging easy for us; he had a post hole digger already mounted on his tractor. As soon as we had done the set out, he dug a hole for each post to go in. This design relied on the posts being set in concrete in the ground. As soon as the holes were dug, Bill left us with a few words we liked to hear.
" The evening meal will be about 7.00 pm. Come on up to the house anytime you like."
"Have you got pizza? I like pizza."
"I don't know what's for tea George, but it won't be pizza, maybe roast mutton though. Will that do?"
"I s'pose it'll hafta, won't it."
"Take it easy George. You'll get whatever is served up and like it. There are no take-away shops out here, you know."
"Geez uncle Jack, all we have at home is takeaways. Cheaper than cookin stuff too. Sometimes Dad takes us up to the Bistro at the Club and that's nice."
We worked on for a while with George full of questions. Why this, or why that, and of course, "When will we get to a shop so I can get some coke?" Tom and I answered his queries as best we could, and worked on. As the sun was setting we quit for the day and went to the showers in the shearer’s quarters. We all cleaned up and walked the short distance over to the house.
"Come on in, tea won't be long."
Bill's wife Glenda invited us in to the house and gestured towards a room where there were some comfortable chairs. We sat down and carried on a mundane conversation about the farm, the weather, and the world in general. George watched the TV which was on in the corner of the room. After about fifteen minutes Bill came in, freshly showered.
"This is the best part of the day. It's great to be free from having to do something on the farm until tomorrow. How did you go down there?"
"We finished the holes, laid out all the posts and have the trusses ready to bolt together in the morning. It's going well."
" I have a question, Bill; what are you going to put in this shed? I saw an auto header down there and I know this shed is not high enough for it. I just wondered what you will use this shed for. Hope you don't mind me asking."
"No problem Tom. I want this one to put the machinery in when I'm servicing it. You know, the maintenance and stuff. It will also be home for the two tractors. The auto header will fit in the bottom shed where the shed is much higher. It will have hay for company in a good year, because that shed is actually the hay shed anyway."
"What's a - er - auto header? " George spoke from near Tom's chair.
"It's a big machine which harvests the grain crops and separates the grain from the straw and keeps the grain. The straw goes out the back and stays in the paddock."
"Sorry to interrupt but, teas ready. This is my chair and that one is Bills, anywhere else is fine."
We went into the dining room and sat down to tea. Eating and talking don't mix well, and desultory conversation only was heard until the meal was finished.
"Geez, I'd love a coke. Are you sure you don't have one somewhere?"
"Geroge, we don't have a drop of that stuff in the house, not a single drop."
" How far is it to the nearest shop, I could walk, you know. I'm pretty fit."
" Now let me think; it's six miles to the road, and then it's about thirty four miles to Coonamble. That's forty miles, give or take a bit. You would walk at about four miles an hour, so it would take you ten hours to get there if you didn't collapse from thirst. Have a cup of tea? O would you like some water? It is fresh water, not like tap water in the city."
"Could I have a glass of water please? It will have to do; at least until I get near a shop again."
We thanked our hosts for a lovely meal and went off to the shearer's quarters and so to bed. Breakfast was ready at daylight, more or less a serve yourself meal. Although chops and eggs were there for anyone who wanted a good breakfast. We started bolting things together with the aid of George. He wanted to help so he could maybe get to a shop quicker. That's what he said. I think perhaps he was slightly interested in what we were doing and that helped motivate him. By night fall the shed frame was standing, a bit wobbly, for sure, but all the posts were vertical. George was still moaning about not having his coke. After another good meal, we slept soundly to rise and get stuck into the shed once again. George turned his hand to mixing the concrete in the mixer for us and Tom was thrilled about that; he hated that mixer.
"Geez, uncle Jack, can't we drive in and get some coke. It would only take a few hours?"
" You look really fit today George, and that's after only one day with no coke. You'll be as fit as a bull in a couple more days. No mate, I can't drive eighty miles for a bottle of coke. That water is nice isn't it?"
"Yeah, it's diff'rent from what comes out of the taps at home. That stuff tastes awful. Where does this water come from?"
"See that big round concrete tank over there, it's full of this water. When it rains on the roof the water runs into that tank and waits till we need it."
"What !!! Acid rain and all? How come it tastes nice?"
"There's no acid rain out here George, that comes from air pollution in the city."
After a day o the concrete mixer George ran out of puff. I admired his determination as it is hard work shovelling stuff into a mixer. His help made a short day for us all so, after a shower, we went walking around the farm house area. George found a lizard, a creamy colour with a brownish pattern on its back. He picked it up, looked at it carefully:
"It's got a dark blue tongue, look Uncle; Tom. See that!"
" It is a blue Tongued Lizard, George, it's supposed to have that coloured tongue."
"Geez, Tom, I never seen one before."
"George, be careful 'cause there are snakes out here too and they look pretty good until they bite you. If you see a lizard with no legs, get out of its way, it's probably a snake."
" I'll be careful. I think there was one back there a bit but it nicked off before I could get a good look."
"Snakes don't like us, George, and if they can wriggle away they will. Just give them room."
Fortunately we found a kangaroo having a feed just near a copse of trees. George knew what it was and responded to Tom and I saying 'Shush' at the same time. We watched it for a few minutes until it sensed our presence and hopped away.
"Geez, they look just like the pictures I seen at school. Where do they sleep at night? Is it out in the open like the cows do?"
"That's right, they do, just like the cows, goats, sheep and horses. They get wet when it rains and look for shelter from the wind when it blows."
"Tom, what are those birds with the lousy squark? They are sort of pink and grey with little caps on."
"Galahs, mate, bloody galahs. You find them everywhere."
"I ain't seen any flyin round our place."
"Did you go to a Park anywhere round your suburb?"
" Nah! never had time. I go to the footy every Saterday, school all the week and then off to the cricket to train on Sund'y. No park near our place anyway, only factories."
"Tom, George lives in an industrial suburb. It's no place for humans to live. We complain about a bit of dust but they have this black soot all over everything not under cover."
" Come on George, I'll take you for a walk and talk and we can get to know the bush together. Do you mind, Jack?"
"No, that's fine with me. I can go do my books before tea."
"Don't forget the new recruit."
" Done, mate, no worries."
I left them there and went back to the quarters where we were camping. Tom was right; I put George on the payroll. He would be able to buy heaps of bloody 'coke' come payday.
The next morning Tom and I got stuck into the wall sheets and it looked like a shed when we knocked off that night. Roof and guttering to go, then a bit of a clean up, and we would be homeward bound. When Tom and I started on the roof, George vanished down the paddock with Bill and we didn't see him until late afternoon. He had been doing rounds with Bill; sheep and cattle. His eyes shone that night as he told us all about his adventures. Then, quite abruptly he stopped talking about his day.
"You've done it all before, ain't you? You been out here for years and years."
"We live out here George; yes we have done it all before. But you gotta remember it took us a while and just to see the sparkle in your eyes when you talk about it is pretty good for us old blokes."
I smiled at Tom; us old blokes were in our mid thirties. George prattled on for a short while and then went quiet. Tom went over to see if he was OK and he was sound asleep. Tom and I shook hands and went to bed. The next day would be our last, one day shorter than we thought, thanks to the help given by George.
We rose as usual and had the ridge and guttering on quickly and packed up our gear by lunch time. George was wandering around where we could see him, sort of saying goodbye to the bit of bush around the farm house area. We asked Bill to sign our completion papers and, after a good lunch, we set out for home.
George piled in and after saying he would soon get a coke, he went to sleep. We stopped at Coonamble and bought George a bottle of 'coke', but he slept on until we were nearly home, four hours later. When he did wake up, he did not ask for a 'coke' until he actually saw it sitting in the esky. He wanted to take a train ride home to the city, so we got him a ticket, took him to the station, and waved as he went on his way.
Of course a phone call or two had been made to make sure he was allowed to travel alone on the train. His mother said he was an experienced train traveller because he went to school that way, and to his footy and cricket.
We waited a bit anxiously till the train had taken George home, and then his Mother rang to say he was fine; if he would just shut up long enough to eat his tea. I think George had a lot of stories to tell. He didn't find his paypacket until the next day. He thought I gave him the envelope for his mother, so he never read what was written on it.