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Saturday, 23 August 2014

Flash Jack goes droving

The thing about Flash Jack, he's a terrible liar, not that he'd call it anything as plain as that.  He'd just say he was a bit inclined to spin a yarn now and then, but other people don't always agree.  They'd tell you straight out that if Flash Jack bumped into the truth on a sunny day, he'd walk straight past, without so much as a flicker of recognition.

He was always a bit that way, but the tendency to exaggerate got worse when he was a bit past his prime.  Take the night when he was quite old, and some city bloke asked him if he'd ever been droving.  "Droving?" Jack said, "Droving?  I've drove cattle across every border in Australia, I've taken them from the east coast to the west coast, and from Cape York to Hobart."

Now this city bloke was no fool.  He even knew that there's a big lump of ocean, the Bass Strait, separating Hobart and the rest of Tasmania from Cape York and the rest of Australia, so naturally he challenged Jack, saying "Wouldn't your cattle have got a bit wet, mate?"

"Naaah," said Jack.  "We went the other way round."

Anyhow, you could see that this bloke, while he was pretty well bamboozled by Jack's reply, wasn't what you would call completely convinced.  In fact you could see he was pretty sure there was something fishy, and I don't mean tuna from the Bass Strait, neither.  So he kept asking these difficult sort of questions, and Jack kept answering them, and in the end the bloke gave up, but when he did, another bloke chipped in.  "What was the hardest droving job you ever did, Jack?"

Quick as you like, Jack answered that one.  "That'd be the time I took four hundred head through the Speewah back desert, across the sucking swamps, and then down to the big smoke."

"That doesn't sound like much of a job to me," said the bloke.  "That isn't exactly what you'd call a large mob, is it?"

"It is when the four hundred head are all 44-gallon drums," said Jack.

"Well, I don't believe that for a minute!" said the bloke, and a few other voices joined in, saying the same thing.

"It's the honest truth," said Jack.  "A mate of mine found out that all these drums were coming out full from the city, and then just being dumped anywhere, and back in the big smoke, they were worth a packet.  Anyhow, Smiling Annie was heading that way with her daughter Alice, and they reckoned they'd had a few domesticated drums in running with the chooks one time when they were staying in town in Bandywallop, and if we had a couple of those at the front, they said, the rest of the mob'd follow on as easy as you like.  Anyhow, we just started with a few drums, and built the herd up as we went along, but I'm afraid we had a lot to learn."

"What, about being truthful?" asks the bloke who'd started it all, but Jack just took that in his stride.

"No, about droving drums.  For a start, we should've taken ear plugs so's we could sleep at night — you don't need to put bells on them drums, I can tell you.  And we shouldn't have gone along parallel to the railway line out of Bandywallop, up towards the Speewah spur line.  It was an easy track to follow, nice and clear of obstructions, and fenced on the railway side, so we could keep them penned in, but we hadn't allowed for the train coming through.

"Scattered the drums all over the place, that did, and it took us three days to round them all up again, and I'll tell you now, the sound of several hundred fully-grown drums stampeding over stony ground is one I don't want to hear again.  Wouldn't've got them in that quick if Crooked Mick hadn't shown up with his dog and a couple of pups, and he later lent us the pups for the trip, luckily.  We wouldn't've stood a chance in the sucking swamps without them.

"Anyhow, we got them together again, ran 'em through Yandackworroby as easy as you please — Mick's pups had 'em marching in three files by then, so Alice and Annie and me stopped for a bit of refreshment while the pups paraded the drums through town.  We were feeling pretty pleased with ourselves till we got to the other side and found a stock inspector waiting for us, a real mongrel who reckoned them drums had to be dipped against rust and five different diseases before they went any further.

"No worries, though.  The pups dug a trench as soon as they realised what was needed, and Annie and Alice butchered a couple of poor-looking stray drums that'd joined the herd, just before Yandackworroby, and boiled up a mean sort of drum dip in them, stuff that'd make any self-respecting disease run away, stuff that stuck to the drums and kept the rust off as well, and poured it into the pups' trench.  Then we had to send 'em though."

"They would've floated, wouldn't they?" asked the troublesome questioner.

"I was just getting to that.  Yeah, they float all right, but if you tie their legs together, and wrap a rope four times round, then drag 'em though with the rope, that spins 'em and gets all sides.  You're right — there was no way we could make them go under that dip.  One good thing, though.  The pups took a strong dislike to this stock inspector, and the one that was doing the pulling would drag each drum over near the inspector while the other one nipped the leg tie and released the drum, so it was free to shake itself.  Catching that inspector for the first few was a bit hard, but after the tenth, he brushed against a tree and got stuck to it, and the rest of them were easy.  By the end, he was no longer really visible.

"Anyhow, we got them out on the other side, and the stock inspector being in no position to say much, we headed off.  Along the way, we collected a few mean-looking scrub drums, but they didn't seem to be doing no harm, so we let them come along.  Looking back, it was stupid, but we just didn't know, and things were really going well. You see, the pups had conceived this idea of making the drums butt each others tails, so they were stuck together in cylinders of fifteen or twenty drums each, which was great in the open country, but got nasty when we hit the Blue Mulga, but that was when the thunderstorm hit, and that stampeded them straight through the middle and out before the rain hit and let them split up.  That's why the road there goes so straight — it was them drums, boring through, that laid down the line of it.

"Well after that, it was fairly easy going till we hit the sucking swamps, when we had to rope them together so they'd go in single file.  That way, if one of them fell in, the ones in front just leaned forward, and the ones at the back leaned back a bit, and pulled the lost one out.  Then just as we got clear of the swamps, and thought we were on the home stretch, some of them drums began to calve, and we were stuck once again, surrounded by the strangest mix of billy cans, jerry cans, and even a watering can, all tangling around our feet, and they never stopped clanking.  I don't know where them scrub drums came from, but they'd obviously had a very mixed pedigree.  Anyhow, we had to wait until they grew up into 4-gallon drums, then we drove the lot down to the big smoke, and cleaned up.  But it wasn't easy money, I can tell you that."

Well, the people listening all swallowed it, but just about the whole thing was completely untrue.  Yes, Jack had been droving through there, so he described the country accurately enough.  That's true, but as for the rest, you can't drive 44-gallon drums across there, because they'd either get bogged, or they'd go lame from the desert sections, because they're too heavy.

In fact, all he ever took through there was a bunch of about three hundred big goannas for the goanna oil industry, and he'd borrowed a pup from Mick's dog, one that'd escaped the lazy genes, so Jack didn't even have to do much, not with the pup, and Alice and Annie along — that part's true enough.

And if the truth be known, Flash Jack couldn't handle a mob of big 44-gallon drums, anyhow.  So what he actually did was drive a really big mob of 4-gallon drums once, though not over that route, and he reckoned it was acceptable to call that a small mob of 44-gallon drums, and to embroider the route he took.  In my book, that makes him no better than a liar.

* * * * *

Note: there is a whole book of these stories, which I am currently pitching to publishers, but they will probably appear in an e-book.

There will be quite a number of these on the blog, all with the tags Speewah and Crooked Mick.

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