Rod Williams, Bush Poetry

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TRIP TO THE CHANNEL COUNTRY AND RE–LIVING OLD SHEARING DAYS!
Last year (Sept/Oct 2010) Dusty and I took off out to The Channel Country to re–visit some of the country, and Stations I regularly travelled through (or to) when I had last worked there as a shearer 43 years earlier.

In the process of getting organised (after a shocking attack of Ross River Fever lasting nearly a month) we were invited up to Tully in North Queensland, so we certainly went the long way around from The Manning Valley to get to far south–west Queensland.

We left Krambach in our –97 Ford Longreach Panel–van loaded with dried and canned human and dog food, swags, guitar, tent, fishing and camping gear.
Whilst on the road (for the 6,000 Km trip) I slept in the back of the van in my swag and Dusty slept in his swag on the passenger seat (like a log) just as Jessie used to sleep.

I had travelled through much of Queensland since my shearing years there in the sixties, including driving a five ton Bedford loaded with building materials, fruit trees and food to the Gurindji people at Wattie Creek on Wave Hill station. One of two trips in 1970 to help in the fight against the Vestys Multinational cattle, shipping and business Empire, to win back their rightfully owned Tribal land.
I also worked as a shearer around Cunnamulla early in the eighties until I got a bad attack of Q fever and ended up in hospital — after being released I returned home to rest then Joined Dick Duggan's shearing team for the rest of the eighties — shearing his main run each year beginning at Ivanhoe, with sheds also at Booligal, and Hay along the Murrumbidgee River.
We would usually wind up the year around Euroa, Benalla and in the Strathbogie Ranges.

POKING ALONG UP THE COAST!

After five days and nights (we just poked along, conserving fuel and pulling over if we looked like holding up the traffic) we arrived at Murray Upper (half way between Cardwell and Tully and stayed for a week with Anne and Lawrie Martin — who had three schools organised for Dusty and I to attend — which we did — performing to the joy of the North Queensland children.
The schools were Murray River Upper primary school, Cardwell Primary school and “Good Counsel” Catholic Primary at Innisfail and Dusty was the Star and received many pats and hugs.

I would like to thank Anne and Lawrie for the hospitality they showed to me and Dusty.
In retrospect I should have done the trip in the reverse order as I was at the point of exhaustion, not just from the trip up but I had been through a very difficult eighteen months and only wanted to lie down in the quiet on the banks of a river or creek for a few weeks as my nerves were shattered.
So even if I didn't show enough appreciation and enthusiasm Anne and Lawrie, I felt it and hope I can re–pay the hospitality at some time.

I would also like to thank them for taking me to some beautiful spots (which I'd love to go to again) such as Garner's beach, Upper Murray River Falls and some very precious Heritage areas.
They both work tirelessly for the protection of many species of Flora and Fauna, particularly the delightful little endangered Mahogany Glider.
Anne took the three photos of Murray River Upper and Cardwell Schools.

Murray Upper school
Murray River Upper State School, The Cassowary Coast — Dusty, me, The Principal and children from the classes 5 and 6

 
Dusty in sunglasses
Dusty and sun glasses — Murray River Upper

 
Cardwell school
Rod and Dusty with Children at Cardwell State School, The Cassowary Coast

We then travelled to Longreach via Hughenden and Winton.
There were lots of memories emerging, particularly while roaming around Hughenden — memories of my shearing days in the sixties, when I had returned from a twenty month adventure around the world and find myself in Hughenden, via Colombo, Darwin and a Redline coach (with not a cent) to find security and credit at the Shamrock hotel until a shearing run I secured — “kicked off”.

In the mid–sixties I'd gone to New Zealand with my best mate Mick Parkhill and a month later I had a job on a Swedish freighter “The G D Kennedy” heading across the pacific via Panama Canal to Dunkirk, Bremen, Bremerhaven, Hamburg, Hull, then back over to New Ark, New Jersey, where I paid off the ship — the first of four ships to get me around during that twenty months.
Also working in four countries, on a fishing boat in Lossiemouth, Morayshire, Scotland and finished up by doing the overland trip down through the middle East (just missing the “Six Day War” by a week or so after leaving Palestine) arriving back in Australia in early 1967.
I was happy to be home and still loved Australia as a nation very much, but it was a huge shock after my incredible twenty months of education and it was like being dropped into a politically na´ve, ignorant and racist backwater.
I was horrified by a lot of what I saw and heard!

My views concerning the Vietnam war had completely turned around and the racism and appalling state of our First People (all over the country but particularly in the western towns) hit me harder than ever and I was right in the middle of it in Hughenden.
I became a target as well because of my association with Wally Bangaroo and his family (great, hard working people) who lived in a tiny humpy down at the stinking cess–pit of a reserve on the edge of town.

This was the major turning point in my life and when I finished shearing at the end of the year (and happened to be in Sydney) decided to take up Political action and fight against these appalling injustices whatever the cost. And it did cost many of us who took on such causes.
It cost many of us all our savings, our physical and mental health and in some cases, peoples lives.

But that time in Hughenden (apart from the good times out shearing) is a huge chapter in itself and will be told in a book at some stage.

LOOKING AROUND HUGHENDEN!

I had the corner pointed out to me (by an old timer) where the Shamrock hotel used to stand — That was the pub my mates and I stayed at when in town, or between sheds. In Blackall it was the Barcoo hotel, in Charleville The School of Arts Hotel and in Quilpie it was The Brick hotel.
The pub with most of the ghosts, memories and Bat–Wing doors was the Charleville pub, that we affectionately called “The School”.

The Shamrock had burnt down quite a few years ago. Gone the way of a huge amount of our Heritage and beautiful old buildings — shearing sheds, homesteads, pubs, theatres — the list goes on with many being destroyed through criminal vandalism, arson (for insurance) neglect or just plain ignorance.
Too many people in this country would rather have crass, multi—national eyesores like McDonalds and Kentucky fried chicken, littering the landscape than caring and looking after our priceless treasures.

Charleville was our main southern base but from there we would begin the big sheds on January 2nd each year (in the blistering heat) between Quilpie and Windorah on the Bulloo, Wilson, Barcoo rivers and The Cooper.

fish and rock sculpture
Dusty by fish and conglomerate–rock sculpture at Hughenden

 
Dinosaur, Hughenden
Dino the Dinosaur made Dusty the dog take off! I caught up with him half way to Winton

We stopped at Winton for a few hours, had lunch and lazed around while some of my wet washing (which had been sitting in a bucket) lay spread out on sculptures and tables and dried in the first sun we'd seen for a couple of days.
Though we drove through heavy rain again nearly all the way to Longreach.

We camped for a couple of nights on The Thomson River at Longreach, waiting for the track over the plain to dry up (150 Kms south of Longreach and west of Stonehenge) so we could cross the Thomson and drive through Lochern National Park to the Emmott's property — Noonbah Station.
When we finally arrived there it was impossible to drive across the 20 Kms to the spot down the Thomson where the shearing shed and old homestead stood, as flood water had been laying there for a couple of weeks, so Angus took us to a spot on Vergemont Creek and there, Dusty and I set up camp.

There had been continual storms in the north and west of Longreach and the Thomson, Vergemont and channels kept rising and falling as the water made it further south.
This made yellow–belly fishing nearly impossible (only catching a couple of small fish) and the few yabbie feeds I had — tasted like cow manure and chemicals from the run off on the properties.

It was the only time I'd been sick in the Outback and over the years I have drunk straight from muddy dams, ground tanks and muddy rivers but this was putrid and if you sat a ten litre bucket full of water overnight, you would have 3 cms or more of toxic sludge in the bottom of the bucket in the morning.
So I used tank water from the homestead and water from the house dam for drinking and cooking.
I think it has a lot to do with the cattle manure and chemicals — washing over the land when these heavy falls occur.
Fifty one years ago a few mates used to literally live on these waterholes and rivers, during sheds at weekends or between sheds, before and after floods, using the water for everything and none of us including me, Parkhill, Burnsie or Begbie, (close mates) were ever sick and very rarely boiled the water for straight drinking.

The cattle then, were deeper into the channel country and they were mainly sheep stations around and in the fringes of the channels. Once you crossed through the Dingo fence (which was on part of the boundary of Mt Margaret) it was all cattle country.
Mt Margaret, a million acres then — and about 100 Kms south–west of Eromanga is where I began the first half of my shearing season on a number of occasions.
There were two sheds on the property and you would usually start at “The Mount” and then go over to the bloody “Oven” called “Ulamontha”.
The Mount was always a 2nd of January start unless flood–waters came down — which was the case one year in the early sixties and we arrived (after being stuck for weeks in Charleville) to find the mess–room and (cook–house) kitchen full of mud with the cooks three kerosene fridges lying on their backs — full of mud — and the Jackeroos had shovelled the mud off the concrete floors of the huts (leaving huge ridges of mud) straight out through the fly–wire around the concrete veranda floors.
All the wash basins and coppers had washed away down the Wilson River to Cooper Creek and that bastard manager (he was called Rocky Ned) expected us to start the shed and say nothing.

As you may imagine, the place was alive with mosquitoes and sand–flies and I slept on the banks of the Wilson, disgusted and angry at what I had come to at midnight. Some of the shearers lit a fire near the shed and stayed up all night.
We had a meeting in the morning and refused to start work until they cleaned the place properly and brought in wash basins, cooking utensils, coppers, mattresses, pillows and mended the fly—wire.
Not much to ask — and an absolute insult to treat the cook that way.

A deliberate act of squattocracy, class discrimination — but we sat down for three days until they did something about getting in our vital needs.
It would do some of these right–wing “Desk–Jockeys” a lot of good had they experienced things like this — that occurred continually — then maybe they would get it right and not pour out the Jingoistic stuff that some of them do — but tell the truth about what things were really like.

It's little wonder that many of we itinerants couldn't wait to get south around September (even though some of us shared a strong Spiritual connection with the Outback) to little Cocky Runs in the New England, Cootamundra, Bombala, East Gippsland (my favourite) or Tasmania, where the farmers treated you like human beings and quite often where there were just little one stand or two stand sheds, you would sleep and eat in the house and be part of the family.
It was a joy to wind up the year that way.
A bit different to the class distinction and discrimination of the suattocracy in “The Deep North”.

cut out, Cunnamulla
Return to shearing 1980. Shed cut–out Cunnamulla area

TIME TO LEAVE THE VERGEMONT

It had not been as I'd dreamed (that's life) but Dusty and I had been away from people, the noise of vehicles, radios, TVs etc and it was beautiful sitting and watching the pastel sunsets (before the “Blister” was to come) and thinking about those priceless days of springtime, Outback–joy, with mates you would never find again.

Dusty swimming
Dusty swimming by a Gidgee tree in a channel near Vergemont Creek


  'CHANNEL COUNTRY DREAMING' ©

Australia's veins, my channel country I've been missing you;
those gentle early springtime days and skies of azure blue.
The Pelicans, the creeks and rivers flowing through your heart,
keep asking me where have I been and why so long apart.

Those years spent on the Bulloo, Wilson, Cooper and Barcoo,
with mates that held you firm in trust, bound tight with friendship's glue.
The weekend days and nights we squandered by those waterholes —
We yarned and drank our rum — with yellow–belly on the coals.

The soft and pastel colours spread from earth up to the sky.
Wild–flowers in the red sand — drift to dreamy clouds on high.
September sunshine filters through and throws warmth on the plain
lightening my head and heart from weariness and pain.

But what of those long summer months of hardship and the heat
ringing wet with running sweat from head down to your feet?
Warm water bags in iron huts, the sand flies and hot beers,
could still not take from slaving men, warm greetings, smiles and cheers.

Those searing months of scorching heat while hot blood burst your head;
on January second we'd roll up to start the shed.
Full water–bag (a shouldered towel) combs, cutters in each hand,
you cross the burning claypan to your pen and shearing stand.

We'd choke with constant dust–storms — in the daytime and at night —
then face big wild scrub wethers, flaming eyes and full of fight.
You drop down on the long–blow and that first blow could well fail,
stopped in your tracks by thick red sand from head down to the tail.

Pulling out of gear you stretch and reach up to your stand,
then change the blunt worn cutter for the fresh one in your hand.
While pulling into gear again you try to “drive it home”;
if it still drags and will not cut, you have to change the comb.

But all these extra hardships never seemed to get us down;
we'd all be tired at end of day but never wear a frown.
This was because of one main thing called solidarity,
and honestly my friends I swear, I'd never felt so free.

Memories of those long gone days flood back while sitting here
with ‘glass of red’, I watch September daylight disappear;
behind it — coloured with the pink and gentle western light,
I listen to the voices in the channel country night.

This was the time of year (when shearing) we all loved the most;
the friendships and the “glory days” of tallies we could boast.
In cool fresh air pull blankets up and dream the night away;
a hearty breakfast, up to start the first run of the day.

Those good mates in companionship that shared the love with me
are all gone now, so tell me, where am I supposed to be?
Go live in Eromanga, with the spirits of the past?
Well maybe that is tempting, yes; the dye may well be cast.

A Boobook calls and frogs are croaking by the Vergemont.
Right now there's nothing that I need and nothing that I want.
My friendly fire of Coolabah and silent kero light,
throws peace and calm contentment on the channel country night.

Up high I see my star sign on its journey heading west;
it's Scorpio the mighty constellation — I feel blest.
I gaze in thought and wonder 'till ‘The Dreamtime’ takes my eyes;
I'm guarded by the power from its birthplace in the skies.

While sitting still, in peace and thought beneath a Gidgee tree,
a spotted black tree–monitor, stops still because of me.
Oh what a “lean sleek” beauty with a sharp and watchful eye;
as still as steel on rough, dark bark, profiled against the sky.

Wood swallow, little swallow with white variegated tail,
goes darting over Dusty, checking out his mad–dog trail.
You're nothing like the Northern breed, you live in Coolabah
and Gidgee and Belalie — you're a shining swallow star!

From Noonbah homestead on the red road back to camp we go.
The sun before us sinking throws a purple, pinkish, glow.
Each ford we breast and every muddy channel that we cross
reflects the pink in waterways, like liquid fairy–floss.

Two large white flying spoonbills rasp their calls as they head home.
The days are getting longer, will I stay or further roam,
a sunset of burnt orange warning of tomorrow's heat?
Yes summer's coming fast again, but I've not itchy feet.

Though I must go, but not because the heat is coming fast,
I'm going and I will return, for present and the past.
Albeit in the cooler months — or January two,
I promise you “My Channel Country”, I'll return to you!!

© Roderick Williams November 2010.

Channel country skies
Springtime Channel Country Skies

 
Our camp
Our Camp

Dusty and I headed off to Stonehenge, Jundah, Windorah.
Stonehenge and Jundah amazed me, lovely little towns, dust–bowls as I remember them — and travelling on to Windorah — the sign to Retreat Station on the lower Barcoo, brought back the dearest of memories of Mick Parkhill, Bobby Burns and Jimmy Begbie.
The new owner seems pretty lousy — he wouldn't let me go in when I rang and asked if I could visit — “For old time's sake” — next time (which is not far away) I'll go there anyway.
No land should be closed to people that love and care for it!! But there is plenty of land that should be taken from those who claim they own it and inflict the abuse on it that I have seen and experienced — FIRST HAND!!

WINDORAH!

We stayed a day and a night in Windorah and sadly the pub was a dead loss. Cheap labour back–packer staff (England/New Zealand) and that's ok but it was the moronic wet T–shirt lot waiting for Cowboys (they are not Stockmen anymore) to come in for the weekend.
They get their share of young mining workers as well — who don't really give a damn about anything except the money they are making.
A lovely lass at the information centre told me that the town was getting a bad name because of some of the people they employ at the pub.
Visitors like to talk to bar workers who know something about the local area but the four females I spoke to there, knew nothing past the front door of the pub.
These pubs used to be the hub of information for the traveller who came in late.
I asked two of the girls where the overnight camping spot was — I'd heard there was a park that anyone could pull into and stay the night, then pay the Ranger five dollars when he/she came around next morning.
It was one block away and neither of the girls had a clue. One said, “I only flew in from Cairns three months ago, I don't get around the place much!”
That pretty much sums it up!

It was good to have a yarn with the female Ranger who was a very helpful local, the old blind Garage owner and the young woman from the Information Centre, all entirely agreed with my summing up of the situation. Unfortunately I had come in on a Monday night (in the dark) and was the only person in the bar.

The place looked good and they also now have a solar farm on the edge of town. Dusty and I went out to the ten mile Cooper crossing and just before the bridge pulled over down by the river (heaps of water and pelicans) where we boiled the billy and had a huge Brunch and a swim (Dusty had about six swims) then we nosed the panel–van onto the remaining 253Kms of road towards Quilpie.

Long open road
The Long Open Road

Down “The long Open Road” the past returned in huge waves.

The weekend before we cut–out “Retreat” station one year, I went to visit a shearer I knew and stayed the Saturday night. A young rouseabout, Mick Jackson from Braidwood, came with me, he knew the shearer as well.
We returned on the sunday too late in the evening and I was a bit drunk so I let Mick drive while I had a sleep on the back seat and when almost back to the shed near Windorah (on the lower Barcoo) he hit a Kangaroo and the fan scored the radiator.

“Retreat” cut–out two days later and my mate Mick Parkhill and I headed to Blackall the back way via Yaraka with a case of pepper the cook had given us to try and block the leak in the radiator.
Anyway, to cut a painful story short, the motor kept overheating and suffocating us from pepper fumes, then ten miles from Blackall the differential caved in and half an hour later a stockman came along in a ute and I got out the tow rope and hooked up.
It was pitch black. He took off like a rocket and we hadn't gone fifty metres when a rock shattered the windscreen and he just kept going like a bat out of hell, not knowing or caring that the screen had smashed and I was blinded with red dust and glass chips.
How the hell I managed to keep the zephyr on four wheels (as Mick and I were smothered in red dust and peppered with flying stones) I'll never know.
I'd also well and truly cooked the motor, had a cracked head and block and you can imagine what Mick and I and the light blue/pearl–grey interior of the car looked like!

Alcohol took over and almost three months spent in Blackall at the Barcoo Hotel were lost from a young man's life.
But finally emerged from “The Horrors”, with the help of a good mate and came back better and stronger and Mick and I went on to spend a wonderful time with a team on a six shed run through late winter and spring, where I “rung” the last three sheds.

More memories of sheds like Thylungra and Bulgroo as we headed down the track and when we passed the sign at the turn—off to Eromanga I re–lived those long hot months and gallons of sweat lost at Mt Margaret and Ulamontha, but also smiled with loving memories of the great friendships that you would never find again.

The Paradise Kid
“The Paradise Kid” (Me) at Mt Margaret shed

 
Murray Upper school
Me and Burnsie with Yellow–Belly, Mt Margaret

QUILPIE!

We booked in for the night in an unpowered camping site at the caravan park, went down to the river — crossed the low bridge, which did not exist when I was last there, pulled up by a picnic table and had a late arvo snack and Dusty had a couple of swims.
There was not a lot of water in the Bulloo, but it brought back memories of when three shearing teams (including ours from Mt Margaret) had cut–out at the same time and were stuck in Quilpie for the Easter weekend because of the flood waters.
It didn't worry me too much as I was going out to Bulgroo (to fill a vacant pen — a shearer had left the shed) but everyone else wanted to get to Charleville or via Charleville to their respective destinations.
My wool–presser mate Bobbie Burns wanted to get back to Brisbane for a week before starting his next shed.

We all received word at our respective sheds that the Bulloo was up to the edge of town and we wouldn't get through to Charleville, so decided we'd prop at Eromanga until the water went down.
Phil Caulus (the publican) had stocked up with grog as he knew there would be a heap of people cutting–out and two of the teams had to return via Eromanga anyway.
Three–parts of the men had arrived only to find that Caulus had upped the price of a stubby by threepence and a longneck by sixpence.
We were already paying a fortune and this was the last straw, so we only bought one drink and Freddie Welfare picked up a chair and yelled out, “You stinking, scabby, ex–copper, Caulus!” Smashing the chair across the bar and everyone left and went to Quilpie.
He would have made more in that long weekend than he'd make in six months, but got nothing because of his greed.
He and his wife were the dirtiest pair of grots I have ever seen serving behind a bar. But you didn't have much choice if you wanted a drink!

It was a riotous weekend and a lot of money changed hands through Seven Card Stud and straight Poker and we drank the pubs dry.
On the Monday morning (the water was still backed up to the edge of town — but receding) Burnsie came to me and said, “Come and have a look Paradise (my nickname) I reckon I can get out driving along the railway bridge!”
So we had a look and decided to give it a go. There was still 30cms of water flowing over the bridge — not with huge force — but sticks and logs and branches were floating down and we didn't know just how far the water would bank up against the side of the car once we were mid–stream.

We mustered up half a dozen other blokes and drove the car to the edge of the water and up onto the railway line straddling the tracks.
The rest of the town (including the other shearers) reckoned we were idiots and we would lose the car and one or more would probably drown.
Everyone in town walked down the main street to the edge of the water to watch the disaster take place!

There was still six or seven hundred metres of water covering the tracks before we reached the start of the bridge — so we slowly drove and pushed until we were about 100 metres from the bridge and the water began to deepen.
Burnsie turned off the motor (we let it cool for a while — which didn't take long with water lapping the sump and lower part of the motor) and covered as much of the engine as we could with corn bags and some plastic sheeting we'd scrounged from around the place.
Then we started to push — and push we did — all the way across the bridge plus another two or three hundred metres up to dry ground.

It became pretty dodgy when we reached the strongest part of the flow and some of the boys had to hold the car down( as the force of water would have swept it away) while the rest of us gripped with bare feet onto the edges or ends of wooden sleepers 60 to 70 cms under the flood water and pushed.

We turned back towards the town, gave a big cheer and a victory sign and received waves and cheers from a small band (mainly shearers) the rest of the towns people had already started back with their tails between their legs.
After removing the bags and plastic we dried the interior of the ute and removed the plugs, distributor, coil etc, dried everything and sprayed all wiring connections with a can of water dispersant that I'd brought form my car's toolbox — and in half an hour Burnsie kicked the motor over and after a lot of smoke, farting and back–firing the 1959 blue Holden ute was sitting there purring, ready to take on the 153 miles of hard stony road.
We all shook hands with Burnsie and after giving my mate a good luck hug, he jumped in and took off to our cheers, heading east to Charleville.

So like that bloke (from that fairy story in the bible) we proudly walked water again for 8 or 900 metres back to a small cheering crowd who waited for us on dry ground at the town's edge.

The manager of the Brick hotel (one of the “True Believers”) shouted us a few rounds and feeling extremely proud of our effort, we settled in for the afternoon.
It was only the day before that at about midday Burke Hogan wandered out of the bar (drunk of course) crossed the road and lay down on the ground.
I don't recall any buildings being there then and the local pet Brolga used to walk along from one end of the street to the other.
Anyway the town drunk decided to go over and lay down behind Burke (in the same position, on his side) which to us at first (watching through the pub window) seemed like a gesture of solidarity, until one of the drunk's hands began to creep up onto Burke's body and slide into his pocket.
Well, after a huge laugh at this happening as we watched in broad daylight, a couple of us went over and rescued Burke and told the town drunk that if he tried it again, we'd drown him in the Bulloo.

Cheryl at Quilpie Information Centre

I had a couple of long chats with Cheryl Pratt at the Information centre on the afternoon we arrived and the next day before we left for Charleville.
I was impressed with the lovely little museum at the centre and the craft display with some very beautiful quilting work.
I told Cheryl what it was like in my time there and how shearers kept all of these towns alive.
Contrary to what the Squattocracy would have you think and what ignorant people think — shearers didn't only keep the hotels going (which was a huge amount of money into each town and helped to make it prosper) they bought shirts, trousers, underwear, socks, shoes, coats, hats, combs, toiletries, shoe polish, shaving soap, razors, condys crystal, mentholated spirits, kerosene, insect repellants, towels, washers, shearing dungarees, singlets, shearing moccasins (or boots) shearing combs and cutters, water–bags, matches, lighters, tobacco, Accommodation, petrol, car repairs, meals (when in town) at cafes and hotels, supplies from chemists and the list goes on as well as all the food supplies being bought locally and transported out with the contractors to the individual sheds.
They also attended dances, picture shows and any entertainment happening whenever they were in town.
In fact most shearers were a lot like other human beings — but a damned site more generous!!

And what of the big Graziers?

They treated shearers like poison, on land that a lot of them were granted or had thieved!
The conditions for shearers on the properties were disgusting and the only time you saw them in places like Charleville or Longreach is when they were boarding a plane to go to their coastal properties or their newly built mansions on the Gold Coast.

The best conditions were always on properties owned or leased by battlers or those who tried to make a living after going through the horrors of wars!

And, I would like to add, these great rich, Squatter, pioneering, patriots spent bugger–all in their local towns, but had the bulk of their produce, food and other supplies, shipped out from the big Co–Ops and agents in Brisbane.
They all made a fortune during the wool boom and put next to nothing back into the industry to benefit shearers, but dozed down Colonial Heritage homes to build huge brick ones and bought up heaps of real estate on the Queensland coast — and when the boom finished they brought on the savage 1956 shearers strike, by dropping the shearing rate.
William Gunn would have had all shearers exterminated if he could have and his robot didn't work but he received a Knighthood for being the extreme Right–Wing Squatter that he was — but these are the sort of people that receive knighthoods.
I don't think Australians will wake up to themselves in my lifetime — in fact I'm bloody sure of it — there is too much self–interest and greed — but LOOK OUT when the country can't be dug up, exploited and destroyed anymore and all those rich, middle–class people begin to lose their mortgaged five or six ensuite–bedroomed homes and high wages that they gained through scabbing on fellow workers, under John Howard's rotten work choices scheme.

Cheryl said, “It's the grey nomads that keep us going now Rod, we had to accommodate the tourists coming, now we have better road conditions, or we'd have died, we've all had to do it.”
“Yes,” I replied, “I've been really impressed, all the way from Stonehenge.
I must say though that I've enjoyed it more because most of the nomads have gone back home to escape this heat, a lot were heading south when I was driving up to Tully and I daresay heaps of vans and RVs would have been going south via Cunnamulla and Bourke.
I can't believe the size of some of these monstrous vans and RVs — they have got to be the reason that caravan park rates in some areas have gone beyond the budget of the simple traveller and camper.
I have noticed signs like “RV Friendly Town” coming into some places including Quilpie!”
“Yes,” said Cheryl, “a lot of people want them barred, but I guess the dollar speaks all languages to most town organizers.”

I had a spa at the van park, a shower and went to the Bowling Club for a while. Several conversations with a number of locals and young blokes working in gas extraction and various mines in the area and around Eromanga, made it very clear that they didn't give a damn about what the town or area was like when shearing was booming.
I mentioned this to one of the barmen and he said, “Aw, they couldn't give a shit mate, it's another breed, Heritage to them is getting in the way of progress and the big dollar they make, it's going to end one day.”
“Yeah,” I replied, “and I hope I'm alive to see it!”
I had another beer then bought a bottle of red wine and went back to the van park , cooked a huge feed in the park's (open air, but roofed) kitchen and Dusty and I pigged out, drank the wine and went to bed.

Next morning, after brecka and a yarn with some people in the park, we visited the Information Centre again for a while and had a look (down the street) at the Murals Cheryl had painted. At about midday, as the rain started in earnest, we headed for Charleville.

BACK TO “THE BASE”.

The rain was moving in on a south–western front, and although we kept ahead of it for a while, it soon began to overtake us.
I had resigned myself to the fact that I was not going to see a Min–Min light and even though the Charleville–Quilpie road was where we used to consistently see and travel with the most Min–Mins, I would be driving through the day.
Even if I stopped and camped for a while, then drove through the middle of the night, we were in for heavy rain.
From what I could gather, the Min–Mins had moved away and I didn't speak to one person (along the way) that had seen one and I think I know why.

You have to travel through the night (of course) to see a Min–Min and there was very little bitumen when I was shearing out there in the sixties and the main traffic (particularly through the night) was the odd carload of shearers heading out to start a new shed or returning late on a Sunday afternoon from Charleville, Blackall, or Longreach, heading out or down to the far south–west corner over hard stony roads, in some cases with eight hours or more of travel to do after leaving those towns.
They were very lonely roads at times but you had your mates and Min–Min lights for company.

Only six months of one year in the mid–sixties, there was not a Min–Min to be seen — and as suddenly as they disappeared — they re–appeared again.
Shearers were the people who saw the most Min–Min lights because they were covering the longest distances and as I remarked earlier, a lot of the travel was done at night.

Two of the first long stretches of bitumen to be laid down, were what they called Beef–Roads.
One was from Julia Creek to Normanton, in the Gulf region and the other from Quilpie to Windorah.
Although a lot of people were suspicious and would half whisper as they'd say, “They're not beef roads, they're bloody Defence roads!”
They thought they knew what was going on — but it was more ignorance than anything. They were coming from main cattle grazing regions for the road trains to cart the stock to the rail heads.
Even when the Quilpie/Windorah road was sealed you would still see Min–Min lights, but there was still hardly any traffic — particularly in the middle of the night when you might drive the 260 km stretch and not meet another vehicle.

Now that the roads are better, there are more cars and trucks on them and in autumn–winter months the roads are swarming with Grey–Nomad tourists, pulling caravans and trailers with expensive four–wheel drives and giant RVs. No wonder the Min–Mins have gone deeper into the wild!

But, I know where they are and a lot of roads into properties we shore at those many years ago are still there and a lot of the old Charleville/Quilpie road is still the same. So when we head out again I'm going to be doing a lot of slow driving on those old (out of the way) roads through the night and I will see my friend the Min–Min again.


  THE ROADS OF OLD


At times I find it hard to reconcile the changing land–
And roads that travel through “The Heart” — the gleaming tar on sand.
I've changed in aspects of my life; I search to find the way–
But ought replaces dust and mates and roads of yesterday.

We didn't make the roads back then, but treated them as home;
No matter whether long or rough or jagged rock or stone.
Because we loved that country and loved the job we did–
As mates, the scheme of reckoning was not the mighty quid.

My Comrades were both black and white, we never questioned skin–
Although we saw the prejudice and hate some bore within.
To us there were no boundaries; the red roads ran for miles–
And always had the Min–Min lights and mates with honest smiles.

The roads were never good enough for distances we did–
And in that country and those towns is where we spent each quid.
We hardly winged because we felt a part of Dreamtime's plan–
With nature at its hardened core and growing as a man.

We seldom tired, we loved our work and though we travelled far–
We'd just hope we would reach each shed in Ford or Holden car.
The greetings came from shearing mates when even past midnight–
We'd crash then for a few hours sleep, before the hot dawn's light.

The job we loved would take us deep into “The Great Outback”–
From shearing shed to shearing shed and many lonely track.
And even though our tyres would blow and sumps would be caved in–
We wouldn't let it get us down; we'd keep that knowing grin.

The Min–Mins would be waiting for us on the Quilpie road–
As nighttime danced the spirits from within their deep abode.
And they would be our guiding light into the far south–west–
Drawn inland to another shed; and we'd feel we were blest!

It was a bond that linked us all, a special tie to bind–
Everyone can see the lights, but many are so blind.
To me they see into your heart and sense the way you are–
And they will in an instant know — from near or from afar!

When I first graced the far south–west and met the min–mins there–
I luckily fell in with mates, who taught respect and care.
We'd often head to distant sheds, from Charleville, at dusk–
And drive with spirits guiding us and mates that you could trust

I understood instinctively and felt the heartbeats strong–
Observance and the learning, kept me right — most times — from wrong.
And waiting on these hot hard roads, for day to dim the light
The Min–Mins on the red stone tracks would be my friend at night.

Yahoos would swerve their car at them and tear across the ground
To catch them; or take rifles out and fire, round after round.
But those I know of came to grief – some daytime – some at night–
For playing with the mystery and sacred Min–Min light.

The Min–Mins now have moved away to realms that are unknown–
From where the “Flash” roads cut the land, so many lights have flown.
And they cannot be found unless you take a special track–
That leads you to their hiding place, deep in “The Great Outback”!!

But I have found a way 'round this, it's not a drastic leap–
I travel on these secret roads, when everyone's asleep.
And there they play around me and guide me in my flight–
Then when I stop, they dance and guard me, dreaming 'way the night.

This heart is beating once again; it's bound by ancient law–
It's sucking me into its soul and travelling once more.
And nobody will see us pass, nor guess our journey's flight–
As we head out on dusty roads, into the spirit night.

++++++++++++++++++++++++++

© Roderick Williams. March 2005.

The road from Quilpie to Charleville is like a super Highway compared to the road we used to grind along — hoping you wouldn't put a rock through your sump, smash your Differential, or hit a roo and do the radiator in or smash the windscreen — or both.

The rain followed us all the way to Charleville, there was a slight break half–way along so Dusty and I had some lunch and boiled the billy.
A little earlier I'd turned off the road into Cheepie, to see if the notorious Shanty/Pub was still there. It was raining constantly so I turned around and went back to the main road and drove on further to where we pulled up and had lunch.

The rogue that had the Cheepie Shanty used to charge 11 shillings a bottle for beer and if you wanted it cold and with the top knocked off, you payed 12 shillings a bottle. The price being charged in Brisbane at the time was 3 to 4 shillings.
These sort of Shanties that were all over western Queensland and NSW Pastoral country, Rail–Heads, small towns like Eromanga and gold mining tent towns, were in most cases run by ex–convict, petty thieves and other scoundrels who had come to gold fields to make it rich.
The term “Lambing Down” or to be “Lambed down” came from the ruthlessness and thieving of these low life creatures.

Shearers were the most vulnerable and the main prey of these Shanty keepers.
They would “Fleece” unsuspecting shearers when they were drunk and drug their drink and the shearer would wake up out in the blazing sun with his swag thrown beside him and the publican would say he had “spent his cheque”.
Many had nowhere to go but to shoulder their swag and walk the isolated track to find more work or at least find a waterhole.
The outback is littered with their corpses and Ghosts.

We stopped at Cooladdi, had a coffee and a chat and the young women behind the counter were nice enough but didn't seem to know much. One of them thought that an old bloke still opened the pub at Cheepie every now and then for the locals, selling bottled beer and a few groceries!?

THE GROTTO!

We moved on and stopped upon seeing this beautiful Grotto on the side of the road. A young woman named Toni who had obviously been killed near that spot. The site was meticulously cared for and she must have been very much loved.
Dusty sensed that it was something to be treated with respect and it was great to see how intently (eyes glued) he walked around it so softly and carefully, knowing it was something special and sacred!

grotto
Loving Grotto for Toni — Charleville/Quilpie Road, by Mulga in “The Red Soil Ground”

 
grotto
Elves, Fairies, butterflies, coloured stones, beads, gems and loving memories

I drove into Charleville, past where the Telegraph hotel used to be and on a bit further (standing out on the corner) was The Hotel Charleville, a big smile lit up my face with the memories of great times we'd had, then turned to the right to see if “The School” was still there.
We past Corones Hotel on the left — Corone used to own The Charleville as well — and further down, there it stood — renovated and now a boarding house “The School of Arts Hotel”.
It was so good to see it still alive and now will be protected as Heritage along with The Hotel Charleville.

The bat–wing doors were no longer swinging (that entrance is now solid wall) and the heavy steel fire–escape ladder that Burnsie released at the top (from the verandah) and let crash down on top of Graham Haslem's holden ute, was also gone.
Burnsie had a gripe with Haslem (who was a Queensland boxing champion) and was drunk and being very stupid — Haslem flew up the ladder, jumped onto the verandah and flattened Burnsie!

School of Arts Hotel, Charleville
School of Arts Hotel— Charleville

We were heading into a wet night so I went to the info centre to get hotel prices and if the skies cleared I was going to attend The Cosmos Centre and Observatory that evening — but no chance — the session that night was later cancelled.

The Railway hotel was the cheapest and good value at $35 for the night so we went and booked a room. There had been changes over the years but the pub was pretty much the same as I remember it being.
The structure of the building, old verandah, rooms, were no different. The bar and dining room had been done up a bit at some stage, but it was like walking back into the past.
It was easy to strike up a conversation as well and after a couple of beers (now the rain was really starting) set up Dusty's bed (I had to leave the car out in the rain) and fed him on a sheltered landing where I tied him and went and had a shower.
I went to the bar, had another beer and bought a bottle of red wine — there was suddenly a break in the rain so with glass in hand I went out and untied Dusty and let him have a run in the yard (playing some ball with him) until he did his “Private Business”, then put him to bed in the car.

I had a meal and the rest of the bottle — adjourning to the bar — where I bought another bottle and had a great and funny time with half a dozen locals.

Dusty wasn't interested in getting out of the car when I checked him, so up the stairs I went, into the cot and out like a light!

Next day I poked around town in the morning and decided not to stay another night or two as reports were coming through about roads being cut around Mungindi and St George, in fact everywhere down towards the border.
So at about midday I said goodbye to the people at the pub and we headed East.

Hotel Charleville
Hotel Charleville

We stopped at Mitchell, I got fuel and found a shelter in the park where we could eat and be dry. The rain was now quite heavy and relentless.
At the servo I'd enquired about the address of Pat Wrinklestein (a gun shearer I'd worked with in the early sixties) but was told that “Ringer” had died a couple of years earlier.
All I wanted to do now was get home!

The rain persisted as we headed further east and I didn't want to go via the New England Highway or down the Coast road, so in fading light I turned south at Miles, not knowing how much water I was going to face between Condamine and Moonie.

MOONIE!

The Longreach panel–van made it to Moonie, but I don't know how we drove through one stretch of water. I think it was the experience of old — driving the Mark Two Zephyr and EH Holden in the dark of night on lonely water logged roads — that got us through.
Although this wasn't what you'd call a lonely road, it was pitch black, the rain was pelting, I couldn't see and didn't know when I was going to hit the next flooded section of road.
There was a sea of water out around the pub at Moonie and nobody knew how bad the road was to Goondiwindi. I felt as uncertain as several other travellers heading south, so decided to occupy one of their $50 a night “Dongas”.
There was another way out apparently by heading west then turning south again but after being given a second (completely different) direction to travel down the same route, I decided I was pushing my luck too far.

The Donga accommodation was on higher ground but water was across the Goondiwindi road and up to about twenty metres from the Donga — so I was able to get out of the car without removing my boots, but it was as muddy as blazes.
Dusty had a meal on the verandah and went for a walk and I dried him down and he had a rest on his rug in the tiny Donga, while I rummaged through the esky and had a feed myself.
The rain was wetting most of the verandah so Dusty went to bed in the car and I slithered in the mud to the ablutions block to do the necessary motions, before removing my muddy boots and putting them on a newspaper inside, so they wouldn't dirty the crappy lino. I undressed and hit the cot after placing a two litre empty bottle by the bed for use when I woke up as I wasn't going to face the rain and mud to get to the toilet, then go back to bed.

That two litre bottle is sheer luxury under such circumstances and I had fresh water in a container, in the room, the little gas cooker, tea, sugar, etc, so when I was ready for a cuppa in the morning I could relieve myself again in the trusty bottle, make a cup of tea and go back to bed to properly wake up and plan the day. The absolute height of luxury!!

Next morning the rain was intermittent but more water lay around and I was told at the pub that four or five causeways were flooded between Moonie and Goondiwindi and it was expected that the road would be closed within a couple of hours.

I watched a semi–trailer start up and drive slowly through the two hundred metre stretch of water down from the pub and another one was ready to head south as well.
I drove up behind him and as the truck parted the water I went in his tracks.
I don't believe that fairy story about Moses and the Red Sea Crossing, but this worked, though you had to be the right distance — not too close and not too far back.
Rather funny in reflection and it didn't occur to me at the time but the truck driver's name was Noah Reynolds, same Christian name as that bloke from that other fairy story!
It could have been his humour because he had written on his truck "Always on time — Through Hell or High Water!"

We finally made it to Goondiwindi, just as they were ready to put up “Road Closed” signs on the turn–off to Moonie.
I filled up with gas and drove down the road to Bogabilla where I got a coffee and Dusty and I sat on a big log on the edge of the truck park at the back of the Servo and had a well deserved meal.
It wasn't until I went to feed Dusty again that night at Viv Walsh's place at Murrurundi, that I realised his food and water bowls were still on the grass behind the log at Boggabilla!

But I had stopped there for a reason I suppose — to reflect on that year I played Rugby League for Mungindi and on that fateful game at Boggabilla.

PAST PAIN FROM BOGGABILLA FOOTBALL FIELD!

I was working as a stockman, boundary rider–fencer at “Tippendale South” half–way between St George and Bollon in the red soil, mulga and sandlewood country (well it was then and bloody well still should be) and also at “Comilaroy” which was ten miles down the Barwon river from Mungindi, both places owned by Gordon Coward — Squattocracy at its best.
I would alternate between the two stations, but preferred to be up in the mulga and sandalwood.

At Tippendale South
Me as a young stockman, my dog “Spark” and Managers son — by the meat house “Tippendale South”

There were six teams in the comp — Mungindi, Dirranbandi, St George, (two Goondiwindi teams) Magpies, Collegians and Boggabilla.
Mungindi field wasn't too bad to play on, Dirranbandi had a bit of grass but it was mainly sandy–dirt, not too bad to be tackled in but everyone tried to dodge the stony and galvanised–burr sections — that was not always possible so you could end up a bit battle–scarred.
St George was a good field, likewise Goondiwindi, but Boggabilla was The Mother of all Mongrel Rugby League Fields.
It was a solid, bare, hard, clay–pan, the only green being patches of khaki–burr and the whole field was scattered with (what we called) gidgee stones.

This was our weekend to play Boggabilla and I had brought some horses down to Comilaroy in the five ton tray truck and had to return to Tippendale south early on the Monday morning to continue putting down a new 2 miles of fencing (with the Manager Russell Ellis) about 20 miles away from the homestead.

So we drove in convoy (as was always the case) over the dusty and stony road from Mungindi to Boggabilla and none of us wanted go near the ground, let alone have to tackle or be tackled on it.
We were short of players as was often the case (probably severe hangovers) but that didn't stop most of us as we usually had a few “Heart starters” along the way and this game was certainly no exception.
Because we were short of players, some of us had to double–up.
A couple of our tough crew were happy to play a full Reserve Grade game and then back up for a full A Grade game. I teamed up with one of the boys (Bobby Fing) and we played half a Reserve game each and then a full A grade game.

No one (from either side) wanted to tackle so everyone grabbed at heads and guernseys to try and throw each other like bullocks.
It would have been easier on all of us had we tackled properly, because this roughneck way left many of us (including me) with knees and elbows scrubbed raw into the bone.
It was the most painful game I have ever played and nothing like that would occur now.

I woke up in agony at 5am Monday morning and tried to cover my wounds from rubbing — from my trousers and shirt (the knees were the most painful) and got in the truck and drove up to Tippendale South.

Ellis was in a shit mood when I arrived and said, “Where the hell have you been, we should be out on the line now?” When I told him we'd had a really bad game and I was in pain and asked him if I could strap up my knees and elbows and have a light day around the homestead he replied, “No bloody way, you idiot footballers ought to have yer brains checked out, we're goin' out in ten minutes.”
I replied, “I do it for the team and the town, I haven't had any breakfast!”
“Bugger the town, your responsibility lies here,” he said, “and it's not my fault yer haven't had breakfast. If you're not ready to go in ten minutes you'll get the sack!”

That day was agony because infection was setting in and we were cutting and de–barking huge Beefwood strainer posts and digging holes with crowbar and shovel and pulling out fencing wire by hand from rolls, along the line. After a sleepless and painful night, I got up and could hardly walk, with glands swelling at a rapid rate in my crotch, neck and armpits. Ellis was a pig to me and I went out on the fence line again and by lunchtime the glands had swollen out like half golf balls and I was sick and vomiting.

I said I'd have to go to the doctor in St George and he cursed and carried on, so we drove back the twenty miles to the Homestead, then it was another sixty–five miles into St George.
The doctor gave me a penicillin injection and tablets to take and told me to rest for a few days and not do anything too strenuous. The next day I was out on the fence line again.
Ellis was mad that we had to stop work and go into St George and blamed me for everything, but he was actually going in — most likely the next day — to get a bull–dozer part from Brisbane that could actually have been brought by the mailman when he came in a couple days time and be met at the mail box out on the Bollon road.
It was all still dirt or gravel road from St George to Cunnamulla with shocking corrugation. I think a lot of the road between Moonie and St George was still gravel at that time as well.
The Moonie oil fields exploration brought the bitumen from Dalby to Moonie and then on to St George.

It wasn't long after that episode that I began to think, “What the hell am I doing working my arse off (even though I loved the work) for peanuts, subsidising a rich Mr Snobby Squattocracy called Gordon Coward and an aggressive non–communicative prick like Russell Ellis.
I can get a couple of contract mustering jobs for the shearing around Mungindi and then I'll learn to shear!”

TIME TO MOVE.

We boiled some more water, filled the thermos and loaded the esky etc. in the car, except for Dusty's bowls, which I still kick myself about (but he loved his new ones) and drove to the front of the servo to fill up.

There was an Aboriginal man about my age and his thirty–five year old son, filling up at the bowser in front of me, I greeted them and said, “I don't suppose you remember that mongrel football field you had here fifty or so years ago?”
“Remember the bloody thing,” the dad said, “been tryin' to forget till you brought it up again,” he laughed, “might as well 'ave played on a gravel road.”
“Yeah,” I replied, seven of us got poisoned from one match and had to get penicillin!”
“That'd be right, it was a long time ago but I think I remember hearin' about that. I'm not sure if any of us got poisoned, probably immune to the ground Eh!” We all had a laugh.

“Anyway,” I replied, “we preferred playin' you mob to that Goondiwindi crowd, they were up themselves and if you stayed longer than a couple of beers after the game, the buggers would gang up on you with all their supporters — even if you lost the game!”
“Nothin' much has changed.” The young bloke said, “There's a few dickheads there!”

“Jees, it's all comin' back now mate,” said the dad, “remember how when someone'd had enough, he'd just walk off the field and sit down!?”
“Yeah, I remember that happening a couple of times,” I replied, “it might have been you?” I grinned.
“Bloody might 'ave been too!” Dad replied. We all had a big laugh together.

Wobbly boot hotel
The Wobbly Boot Hotel — Boggabilla

It was great to end up on a good note and laugh at old times as we shook hands and said goodbye.
After filling up I took a photo of The Wobbly Boot Hotel, had a walk around with Dusty, we both had a drink and headed off down the track.

I'd worked near Moree at Wodoonah station and Percy George and I drove a mob of cattle from there to Comilaroy. I also did three seasons on the wheat near Gunnedah for Bob Brown on his Breeza Plain property.

Dusty and I just wanted to get home and not interested in spending time in the towns, so apart from a pee break and cuppa at Boggabri, re–fuelling at Gunnedah, we drove through to Murrurundi where we stopped at my ex–drover friend's house — Viv Walsh.

Viv and Dusty
Viv and Dusty at Murrurundi

I'd bought a bottle of red wine in Gunnedah and opened the bottle. Viv shouted me a couple of pretty large Bundy rums and we had a yarn about the trip and what the western Queensland country was like now.
I got some fish and chips from the servo next door (Viv had eaten) and polished off the rest of the wine (Dusty had eaten and was in bed) and hit the cot.

We had a great sleep, had breakfast with Viv and cruised home via Muswellbrook, Maitland, Raymond Terrace, then up the coast to the Nabiac turn–off and home to Krambach.

TALLYING—UP!

For five and a half weeks away, 5,800 Kms travelled, the cost was only a bit over $1,000.
Included in that cost were 6 or seven hundred swims Dusty had in the western rivers, being in the Gidgee and Mulga country again, peaceful nights in the channel country, the late spring sunsets, sitting still in thought by Vegemont creek and being right beside and eyeballing Gilbert's lizard and The Black Spotted Tree Monitor.
Have Spinifex pigeons land close to you, watch the beautiful white–tip tailed, Little Wood Swallow dart around.
Hear and see fly over, the large White Spoon–bills, the rare Mallee Ring–Necked Parrot and pelicans and other birds at every waterway.
The big lazy sand Goannas — the colour of the earth — and hear the silence broken from the distance in the evenings and early mornings by the howl of a lone Dingo.
The interesting yarns you had with a number of people whilst travelling and most of all those precious memories of staunch mateships that came to life once more.

Happy Days My Friends!!

Home again
Home at last!!


  THE END