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Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Speewah pumpkins

Then there was the time that Crooked Mick had been persuaded to work as cook once again.  I should point out that Mick didn't really enjoy cooking all that much, but it helped to keep the peace, and besides, it was bad for morale when Mick was shearing because he was so much faster than anybody else.  So when they could, the boys would try to talk him into cooking.

I was glad, because I was working that shed, and I wouldn't have got a look-in, me that twice out-shore Jacky Howe when he was in his prime, even when I gave Jacky first choice of sheep.  That was how sharp the competition was on the Speewah in them days.

Anyhow, Flash Jack from Gundagai was there as well, and he was helping Mick out.  I think he wanted to learn a few tricks of the culinary art, because by that time Jack was a reasonably good bloke with the pots himself, when he tried.  The day I have in mind, Mick gets Jack to take an axe down "to cut a dray-load off the pumpkin, and bring it back for soup".

I was there when he said this, just passing by the cook house, and I commented that it must have been a pretty good pumpkin if you could cut a dray-load off it.  Mind you, I didn't know then about Smiling Annie's special pumpkins, or I would have known that it was a pretty average sort of pumpkin.  Anyhow, like I say, I didn't know about those things then, but Mick let me down gentle.

"Yes," he says, "but there's a few problems with a pumpkin that size.  Why, just yesterday, I took a ladder down there to cut a load off the top where it's really tender, and I dropped me best axe in there."

"Annoying!", I says.

"Completely vexatious, in fact", he says.  I think I mentioned that Mick was a bit rough in some of his ways, but he had a way with the words.  "But when I climbed down inside", he continued, "it was nowhere to be seen.  There was another bloke that I found in there, and he hadn't seen it either."

"What was he doing in there?"

"Looking for a bullock team that strayed.  Anyhow, neither of us found my axe, and we never even saw a trace of the bullocks, all day."

"What will you do now?"

"I'll lower me dog down there in a basket tomorrow, and let him find them both, and bring 'em out."

Now that, I knew, would work, because a Speewah dog can do just about anything: remind me to tell you all about them some time.  But before I go, I should tell you about how Flash Jack got his start as a cook.

There wasn't any jobs going on Lignum Downs one year, except as a cook, and Flash Jack needed work, as his pants were beginning to go.  So he took the job, but one or two of the older hands know when to smell a rat, and so one of them asked him a trick question.  "What would you use an axe-head for when yer cookin' a galah?" he asks Jack.

"Easy," says Jack.  "You put an axe-head in with the galah, and when the axe-head's soft, you throw away the galah, and eat the axe-head, right?"

"No," says the bloke, looking around at the others.  "You eat the galah, don't you, mates?"

They nodded in agreement, but Flash Jack was ready for them.  "Not on the Speewah, you don't," he explains.  "If I'd known you meant sissified city galahs, of course I would've said that.  But as a professional cook, I work on the material I know best, whenever I can."

"Garn," says one of them.  "You can't cook.  Why, I could cook better than you.  Except sheep dip, and I reckon that soup we had last night'd kill even them Speewah sheep ticks you was talking about."

"So would I," says another, adding that he's not a bad cook himself, and then a whole lot of them chime in with the same claim, and one of them reckons he used to be a baker, and asks why hasn't Jack baked any bread for them, but Jack isn't fazed for a moment.

"I'll tell you what, then," says Flash Jack.  "We'll have a baking competition, and see who can bake the best bread."

Well they all agree to this, and then Jack pulls his trick.  "Seeing as I'm a professional cook, I'll be the judge and oversee what people are doing.  Then at the end, I'll take on the winner, and the runners-up can judge between us."

It's just as well for us that Flash Jack never took up politics, or who knows where we'd be now.  Of course, what he did was to watch the competitors, feed everybody on the winning entries, and then at night, he'd try out the recipes, and dropped his disasters in a hole.  He threw the first failure into a billabong, but all the fish in there died, so after that he buried the ones that didn't work.

By the time he had to take on the winners, Flash Jack knew all about baking, and he never looked back after that.  Except occasionally, when he felt a pang of guilt about all those dead fish, and the fish pie he'd made out of them, and the damage it could've done.

* * * * *

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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