Just a boy from Burraboi
Just a boy from Burraboi
This week I reworked a poem I wrote on Tim Frolling's Facebook page after he posted a photo of a sunset, please leave a comment as
I would be very interested to know what you think.
Dust hanging onto the back of the truck
Radio beating out an old country song
An angel singing beside me, bringing me luck
Slappin her hands in time on the dash of my car
Singin on pitch, knows every word
Seems to me, there’s not a song Sally hasn’t heard
Give her an old church hall or a public bar
She's got a head full of dreams and songs to play
Doing her dues and making it pay
Someday soon she’ll be on her way
A crowded bar, or empty barn
All she needs is a place for her to sing
So, turn up that amp, girl -- and make it ring
Six new strings on an old guitar
Scuffed Williams boots and tight blue jeans
Tapping feet and swaying hips
Eyes of fire, hold a wild girl’s dreams
Killer smile on forbidden lips
Stuff another greenback in her old tip-jar
Help like yours will take her far
I remember Sally slappin her hands
On the dash of my car
A head full of dreams and songs to play
Thinking someday soon she’ll be on her way
Doing her dues and making it pay
No longer playing old church halls or a public bars
It’s Opera house and Stadiums
No longer dreamin of fortune and fame
My little girl’s a superstar
Now this old world knows her name
Time was pressing it couldn’t wait
And our mothers, the sisters three
Hatched a plan, or so it seems to me
Something my cousins and me
Called the conception conspiracy
If such a plan had been discussed
The birthday dates preferred were June
And with many factors to consider,
Husbands to coerce would be a cinch
A kiss, a cuddle, a loving pinch
A little human to create
Doubled over and throwing up
Each sister thought with banging head
She should have bought a pup instead
Encouraged by Grandma saying something great
Like, “It’s your first, I had ten.”
No sympathy from our Nan, she’d say,
“Now, out of bed and start again.”
And as June 1949 came around
Through the moaning and contraction slug
Auntie Aileen gave birth to Doug
I was next with Edna pushing hard
My father banished to the yard.
Last was Beth bringing cousin Geoff to life
But there we were cousins three
Doug and Geoff and little me
June’s babies born eighteen days apart
A bond soon formed and as we grew
Through our scrapes our fights and fun
Some battles lost some battles won
Now sitting here soon seventy-two
I think about our shared history
Our mothers, fathers and siblings too
Of Nannie Symes, those sisters three
and I am convinced, there had to be
A planned conception conspiracy
Gillespie's Gold: Chapter Forty-Nine
Sam went with her father to shift the pivot irrigator. She knew it was a ploy to talk about mining and something she would rather do than grocery shopping with her mother. There was something about being on the farm that eased her mind, the rattle of tools on the tray of his four-wheel-drive was comforting and the incessant barking of the farm dogs riding in the back reminded her she was home.
‘I’ve been thinking about the Gillespie place,’ her father pointed for her to open the gate.
‘Yeah?’ Sam climbed out and waited until he drove through. There was no stock in the paddock so she left the gate open and ran back to the vehicle.
‘I remembered something an old scratcher told me back in the seventies, reckoned he’d been done out of a claim, years before. He bragged about a reef that would make Lasseter envious.
‘Something my dad called people who scratched a living out of prospecting.’
‘Where was this claim? And who was he?’
‘I just knew him as Mad Charlie,’ he eased the irrigator over the pivot point, ‘here, jump out and pull the drawbar pin, eh,’ he rocked the vehicle back and forward until he felt the pin loosen, ‘then it would be a big help if you could give me a hand to set up.’
As they worked, Sam’s father told her the scratcher had worked a claim at Waukaringa in the early days and asked Les Gillespie to back him. For years they combined to make the claim work and, like everyone else around there, they sent their ore to the battery in Peterborough. Rumour had it there’d been a card game at the Imperial Hotel the night it burnt down. Les Gillespie and Mad Charlie were the last players standing and the stakes were high.
‘Everything had been fine between Gillespie and the scratcher until the night of the pub fire in Orroroo. It was around September ‘69 and the licensee often promoted a card game to boost his takings. However, that night was a big one, a poker championship, something he wanted to become an annual event.’
‘I can’t see how that would have been legal,’ Sam said.
‘It wasn’t, and his idea was scotched by the local copper and most of the town’s wowsers, but he got around this by putting up stake money for the people who objected.’
‘Yeah,’ Sam knew her dad loved a story, but the mix of truth and fiction in his yarns could always be called into question.
‘Two hundred dollars was a lot of money to most in the district, but Bert saw it as an investment that would pay dividends after the tournament. Five percent from each winning pot meant his plan couldn’t fail and commercial travellers who were regulars at the hotel would soon spread the word.’
‘So how did it work?’
‘Bert capped the number of players at sixty and on the designated evening, thirty serious and twenty-six novice gamblers registered for the championship.’
‘Yep, professional players deposited ten thousand dollar stakes, amateurs gamblers put up two thousand. Mug punters, for whom he had a waiting list, thrust their two hundred dollars at him.’
‘You’re making it up,’ Sam said, ‘that would never happen in a place like Orroroo.’
‘You can scoff young lady, but I’m told at the gala dinner that night a red pyramid of notes built on the table as each gambler pressed forward to register their stake and before the soup arrived two hundred and ninety thousand lay before them. Bert and his wife stood behind the cash and as a photo was taken to record the occasion, Bert held up another ten grand.’
‘A photo, really?’
‘Yes,’ Clive sounded indignant, ‘I even had one somewhere.’
‘Bet you can’t find it now,’ it felt good to laugh.
‘It’s in the wardrobe at the back of the motor-shed, I think.’
‘That’s lost then,’ they both laughed this time.
‘Anyway, he puts the ten thousand on the pyramid, declaring this the richest poker tournament in the State’s history. After dessert, he puffed himself to full height and rapped on his glass. When he had the attention of the diners, he told them the games would begin at nine o’clock and asked the players to open the envelopes in front of them. He waited and they fidgeted. Each envelope held a card, a red number to tell them their table and the blue, their seating position. He wished them luck and said the match steward would call them at eight forty-five pm and the doors would close at nine until the first refreshment break at midnight.’
‘It’s a good story Dad.’
He passed her a couple of spanners and pointed at the toolbox. ‘The mug punters took to their rooms where some tried to sleep while others flexed their fingers with a card deck and at eight fifty-five, the dinner gong sounded, and players were called to take their place at the tables.’
‘And they had to stop at midnight?’
‘Yes,’ he rocked on a tyre and watched a wave of movement ripple along the irrigator’s length, ‘anyway, when tournament master called time, the gamblers returned to their rooms and the mug punters who’d lost went home to explain the unexplainable. Others sat outside in their cars and cried like babies. Only the winners were happy and twelve hours later those left in the tournament gathered again in the dining room, a scene more sombre than the night before.’
‘How did anyone go to the loo?’
‘They didn’t, anyway it went on just like the night before until time was called. By then the room stank of cigarettes and the sweat of desperate men and the remaining players adjourned to their rooms for a shower and a change of clothes.’
‘Dad, forty hours is a long time and even with scheduled breaks, how did the players rest?’
‘It is a long time but think, everyone would be going over the other players’ faces in their mind, trying to remember flinches, smiles, searching for anything that might indicate their next play.’
‘But what has this to do with the Gillespies?’
‘If you have some patience, I’ll tell you,’ he turned the key and started off again, ‘Mad Charlie didn’t like his last hand and called for a new deck. On the table, over two hundred and seventy thousand dollars in cash and bonds sat before them. Only four hours earlier he’d won the deed to the John Billings’ farm. John sat in the corner drained, he couldn’t go home. He had no home,’ he waved his hands to emphasise the tragedy of it.
‘Yeah, Bill Simpson had folded a broken man and the title to his engineering shop added to the pot. Together these two upstanding citizens owned only the clothes they stood in. Only Charlie, Les Gillespie, two other players and the dealer remained. There was still a lot to play for.’
‘I’ll bet there was.’
In the swing of the story, her father pressed on, ‘Charlie reckoned he had a better gold find than the legendary Lasseter’s Reef and pulled a map out of his jacket and put it into the pot. Les Gillespie called and raised with the deed to his own property and the two other players at the table folded and left. Everything to play for was now between the scratcher and the squatter.’
‘So is that what I am Dad, a scratcher?’
He didn’t answer and pressed on with his story, ‘having matched and raised Charlie’s bid, Les then drew three gold bars from his jacket pocket. The scratcher folded. He couldn’t call or raise. He was out of options and Les had beat him.’
‘And that’s it?’
‘Not quite, but yeah. Mad Charlie demanded to see the cards, but Les just laughed. I’d heard he was mean bastard, but mean enough to laugh when he turned over his hand, that’s a whole new level of low. The bugger had nothing and he’d bluffed Charlie out of everything.
‘What do you mean?’
‘Charlie had the better hand, but Les had more to bet. His only gamble was that Charlie had less to play with and it worked. Les Gillespie got everything and it pissed Charlie off.’
‘I’d be pissed too.’
‘That’s how it works with poker, so be careful who you play with.’
‘So, the guts of the story is, Charlie hated Les because he believed a Gillespie cheated him out of his,’ she used her fingers to make speech marks, ‘better than Lasseter’s reef and their farm too.’
‘Yep and that’s why I never play cards.’
Sam loved her father’s yarns but she dismissed it as a myth, something drillers in bush camps tell each other to pass time.
‘Bigger find than Lasseter’s, yeah?’
‘So, the scratcher said.’
‘Which we can’t prove because neither has been found.’
‘So, the Gillespies have Mad Charlie’s mine, if the map to its whereabouts didn’t go up in the pub fire, and you believe that?’
‘Nope,’ he tightened the last clamp and straightened up and put his hands in the small of his back and stretched, ‘the only bit I believe is that the pub burnt down.’
‘So, you just told me a whopper to cheer me up?’
‘You used to like my stories,’ he feigned hurt.
‘Of course I love your stories, but what I want to know is why Charles is so dammed positive the Gillespie land has gold on it.’
‘I dunno love. Your former boss and Mad Charlie could be related, still carrying the grudge. Charlie told anyone who’d listen that Les had blown the entrance of his mine to stop people raiding it. He maintained there was an underground rift, or fissure, millions of years old running east west, on a line from Burra to Roxby, somewhere between the Walloway Hills South of Eurelia and as far to the north-west as Lake Torrens. If the reef does exist and is on Gillespie land, then it’s probably on that line.’
‘There’s not much evidence on the surveys to support that.’
‘Well, he was a bit of a crackpot. He reckoned if you knew where to look, you could grow gold.’
‘So, he said. He also reckoned that the inter-plate fault line has smaller fissures, fault jogs he called them. Anyway, these lines can have several mini earthquakes a minute and if you know where they are, you can literally watch gold grow.’
‘And you believe him?’ She wondered if her father was winding her up with another yarn.
‘Nope, and like you, I never found anything to substantiate his ravings,’ he laughed.
‘You bastard, Dad. You’ve sucked me in twice. I come down here for some respite and all you do is take the piss.’
He was falling over himself with laughter, ‘Google it if you don’t believe me. C’mon let’s get Mum and take her to the pub for lunch.’
Rosco Bryant wiped an arm still flecked with metal from the black grease that wouldn’t wash off with just soap and water, pointed to the window.
‘What the fuck is that?’ he said, his other hand waiting, poised to pick up his beer the moment Kathryn Morgan, the pub’s owner set it down.
‘Oi!’ Kathryn might have had to stand on tip-toes to reach the change on the bar and, when she ran the bar, Rosco always put his cash where she had to stretch reach it. Always peering into her cleavage as she did.
‘G-wan, you love it.’
‘Not me you tool,’ she dragged the beer mat toward her deliberately spilling the froth down the side of the glass just before he caught it. ‘I’ve told you I won’t tolerate racist remarks in my pub.’
‘Jeeze Kathryn, your little Irish brain jumps to conclusions quick,’ Rosco was feigning hurt, ‘I was looking at his bike, ex Australia Post if I’m not mistaken.’ He lifted the front of his blue singlet and bending to wipe it across his sweat beading forehead only to shift a blob of grease from the singlet to smear a spot just above his right eye. ‘It’s not something you see out here every day, a redback spider riding a Honda step-through,’ he said and stretched the singlet back over a tangle of wire like hair that matted his more than ample belly.
‘Bullshit,’ she turned to serve the only other patron who just sat, staring at the dregs slowly draining to the bottom of his glass. He only nodded as she reached to take it from him, ‘Wouldn’t hurt you to jump in and defend me, George.’
‘Oh – yeah s’pose,’ was all he said and went back to staring at the spot, to where as if by magic, a new glass would always appear in front of him until his money ran out.
The morning had pushed the mercury in the thermometer way past thirty and Rosco had been changing a bearing in his harvester. It had to be well over forty degrees in the feeder throat where the bearing on the top roller of the feeder chain had let go. He had pictured himself roasting like a turkey in an oven and thinking a turkey lucky, at least for the bird, there would be no chaff working its prickly scratchy way into every crease and fold of its skin.
Rosco was a strong man, and his doctor had been warning him off the booze for that many years, but his advice was never heeded. Now, it no longer came up when he had use of the physician.
From outside a horn on a four-wheel drive blew a long and two short blasts.
‘Noon, gotta go,’ he picked up his change stopped and slapped three, wet with beer, two-dollar coins back onto the bar towel, ‘here Irish, buy this nig-nog a beer on me, just to show him I got no problems with race.’
‘Fuckwit,’ George said under his breath.
Kathryn found it hard to contain herself as the stranger and Rosco danced around each other trying to get through a door ample enough on other days that it could allow a pair of lovers holding hands through its void. Rosco, shorter than most of the men in town, resplendent in baggy, pink boardshorts, a faded navy-blue singlet complete with a mandatory hole worn through over the years by being stretched over his belly button hair. Steel capped boots with the toes out of them should never make disparaging remarks about anybody.
In contrast, the stranger was spiderlike. Yes, his skin was black and his limbs looked as if he had been overstretched, but it wasn’t that. His flat black ex-biker’s helmet had been festooned with an array of different sized costume eyes, supposedly to keep magpies from swooping. On his back a guitar case with red racing stripes clung to him as if it was glued there.
To stop the farce, he put his arms around Rosco waltzed him two turns into the bar and said, ‘thanks for the dance, I’m Jamie.’ Kissed his fingers and tapped Rosco on his bad spot with them.
‘Fuck off,’ Rosco said, annoyed to have been made look a fool yelled at a closing door and stepped off the curb to where his thirteen year old daughter was waiting.
‘You’re such a dick Dad, c’mon Mum wants us to pick up milk eggs and cream on the way home.’
‘You’ll have to go in,’
‘What? I’m all gritty and covered in dirt and chaff, I can’t. I’m not having my friends seem me looking like your lacky’
‘Sure, you can, look do your old Dad a favour. Christ you know that ever since that oxygen thief cheated me, I’m not allowed in there anymore.’
‘Like,’ she rolled her eyes, ‘old Mister Rasheed has ever stolen from anyone, you were trying to put one over him and you know it.?
‘Go on girl and ask him for a job after school while you’re at it, tell him he can take your wages off your Mum’s tab.’
‘That’s your tab too, Dad. She only buys what we need, It’s not her who puts money on horses, shouts the bar for his mates, or leaves a tip on the bar for his dance partner.’
‘You keep that to yourself my girl.’
‘Why? Kathryn and old George will have that story all over town by tonight.’
He raised his hand and remembered the remorse that fell like cloak of misery, drowning him for days the last time he hit one of the kids. That and the threat that Liz made when he went to hit her for coming to their aid. He dropped it.
‘And I got it all on my phone,’ she held it for him to see, ‘now where’s that Insta app?’
Rosco reached for the keys and as he did saw a flash of lights in the drivers’ side mirror, ‘Fuck,’ he threw the keys to his daughter.
‘Not thinking of driving, were you mate? I reckon you have been here about an hour and the way you knock-em back I’m guessing there’s about three or four schooners sitting inside you.’
‘Yeah, spot on Chris, I was just getting the kid here, to call her mum tell her to ride her bike in and pick us up.’
‘That right, Bella? He said ending down to look her in the eyes,
Bella might be just a little over thirteen and be packed full of sass, but her parents had instilled in her truth was always the only policy. Now she had to choose between loyalty to her dad or their teachings. ‘I’ve got the keys.’ She said jangling them so he could see, ‘and my phone.’
‘It’s okay Rosco,’ Jamie burst out of the door they had been tangled in earlier, ‘Kathryn said she’ll put me up. So, if you can help us get the bike on the tray,’ he turned to the policeman, ‘Chris is it?’ and shook his hand before he registered what was happening. Turning back to Rosco, he continued, ‘I can drive you and Bella home and do a bit of sight seeing on the way back.’
Chris helped bike lay on its side among the grease tins, loose spanners and other tools in the back of the old ute, ‘everyone got a seatbelt on?’
‘Hell yeah, cried the teacher ‘and damn tight they are too.’
Chris felt Kathryn slide her hand onto his shoulder as he leant against the veranda post. ‘What as that?’ He asked.
‘That my man, man is our new English teacher making friends with the town bigot.’