Apart from the fact that the mail was running a day late, George was not too concerned that the truck had broken down somewhere on the bleak and deserted two hundred and fifty mile stretch between Burke and the one-dunny town of Ockerroo.
In the back there were four slabs of beer and sufficient emergency cans of baked beans to feed three footy teams and a whole band of salvation-pilgrims in the desert. Not that George ever expected to discover such company when doing his mail run, but you never could tell … the world had shrunk and George was a stickler for adhering to the Boy Scout tradition of “being prepared”.
Right now George was more concerned about placating his stomach. Hell, it was ten in the morning, high time to check the road for a suitable spot free of oil, camel dung and recent emu road kill. He marked out an area and gave the bitumen a good scrub before adding olive oil, eggs, bacon, tomato and a couple of snags.
‘Take about six minutes, I reckon,’ says George to a watching lizard before becoming totally absorbed in a frantic search for a clean plate and egg slice. ‘Nothing like a good brekkie’ George assured the lizard ‘while waiting for the rescue ute to arrive from Ockerroo.’
The civil volunteer rescue ute came into existence because, when George originally discovered mail van immobility, he was stuck right about where he was now, only with no way to summon help. George, being a resourceful sort of bushie, loaded up his trusty .303, took steady aim, and shot out the ceramic insulators on the overhead phone lines, a sure fire method of attracting immediate attention, no risk.
Understandably, the Telecom people were not too fashed about the mailman’s methods which resulted in expensive line restoration, and it was agreed by one and all that, should George fail to arrive by thirty-six hours over schedule, the alarm would be raised at Mulligan’s pub and any volunteers still sober would fire up the generously-donated second-hand Telecom ute to streak to his rescue.
However, the real reason for why the rescue was allocated code red had little to do with George’s predicament or pending demise through heat and dehydration. Hell no, this was dole cheque week and at least half the good citizens of Ockerroo would be sweating on the speedy arrival of their survival cheques.
Living off the dole was a vital income-generating industry in a town like Ockerroo.
When the rescue mob arrived back in town not only did they have George in tow but also, being good christian souls, gave a lift to a bloke on a pushbike who they now left like a stranded whale decorating the middle of the one and only main street while they all pissed off to cash their dole cheques in exchange for promise of liquid gold at Mulligan’s pub.
Not surprisingly, a fair content of the mail delivery was addressed to the police station.
The usual collection of replacement forms, such as the one regarding traffic light infringements whilst driving. A trifle superfluous seeing Ockerroo didn’t have any traffic lights, but you never know … it was always handy to keep in the bottom draw to charge some crim with something obscure and for which you did not have sufficient concrete evidence. Charge him with running a red light and he becomes so bamboozled by your copper’s brilliance he puts his hand up and pleads guilty yer honour.
There was, however, one disturbing item of correspondence that drew frowns from the two representatives of law and order in Ockerroo. The commissioner himself had written to say his Lady commissioner had recently taken up a new craft and sergeant Clappers Clarke and his constable were instructed, without delay, to go suck eggs.
Not just ordinary hens’ eggs, mind. The commissioner’s missus, she wanted emu eggs, and seeing the last wildlife census claimed Ockerroo possessed ownership of four million and thirty-eight wild emus, it should present no problem for Clappers to obtain at least one dozen fully blown and undamaged eggs some time within the next ten days … please.
Of course, when the commissioner said ‘please’, Clappers knew, from long experience, that this wasn’t just a polite request, but a bloody order mate. Like, do this and keep the Lady commissioner happy or find yourself in the badlands of Wilcannia.
Ten days! Cripes, what with George’s mail van delay, they had already lost two and the city constable did not know the first thing about emus, let alone how to collect eggs.Unlike stupid chooks, you cannot walk up to an emu and politely say, ‘Excuse me, miss, do yer mind shifting over while I pinch a few of yer eggs?’ That kind of request is likely to reward you with an immediate, painful swift kick in the guts, possibly resulting in loss of belly-button and some inner contents that had never before been exposed to daylight.
With a beery tear in his eye, Clappers remembered what remained of one bloke who came within kicking distance of a roaring rogue emu. Took them three hours to find all the bits and stitch him together so he looked pretty in time for the funeral.
‘Hey, sarge, whatdoyer make of the bloke standing in the middle of town?’
Sergeant Clappers Clarke and his ever-attentive constable had been exercising the station’s pet. Three foot of mean-looking frilly lizard who was in reality an old food-bumming softie that Clappers had named Norman in honour of the current Police Commissioner.
Norman had no desire to escape. Cripes, up until he joined the police force with the rank of honorary cadet constable first class, he never had it so easy in his entire life.
Way back then he had to race around at five hundred miles an hour just to catch his tucker. He only came to live at the cop shop because Clappers could run even faster and was looking for a station mascot to replace Oscar the deadly taipan who, apparently, fell out of favour when the snake decided to join Clappers and his ever-loving missus Sal in the matrimonial bed.
Mrs Sergeant Clappers was definitely not amused by this slithery show of affection. Poor Oscar was banished to guarding the top of the precious drinking water tank against horrible calamitous cane toad invasion.
‘So what do you make of him, sarge? He’s just standing there, looking all lonesome and lost.’
‘Could be lost, yeah maybe he is. I reckon he looks like a Pom to me.’
‘What makes you say he’s a Pom, sarge?’
‘Well, cop a load of him, will yer? Panama hat, ironed sports shirt, Bombay bloomer shorts down to his kneecaps, lily white spindly legs, short socks and sandals … yeah, no risk constable, what you are observing is a genuine Pom who under his hat is wearing a perplexed expression. He looks totally lost, so go and ask him, what is that map he has clutched in his hand and why is he cluttering up our main street?’
The constable returned from interrogating the stranger. ‘You were spot on there, sarge, he is a Pom and his name is Mark. Reckons he stopped over in Burke and asked directions to where he could photograph wildlife and indigenous heathens and, whatdoyerknow, they pointed him in our direction. Do you want me to charge him with running a red light, sarge?’
‘Mark, eh? Well mark my words, constable, I do believe the good Lord up above has delivered unto us a sacrificial lamb in human clothing. Go and bring me Norman, then keep an eye on the cop shop. My new friend Mark and I are going for a heart-to-heart chat in Mulligan’s pub.’
‘He also said he arrived in the Land of Oz on his sabbatical. Hey, what breed of car is a sabbatical when it is at home, sarge?’
‘Jeez, constable, I reckon it might be Pommie lingo for one of them super turbo charged Swedish cars that do nothing to a hundred in under ten seconds, but yer need to drive ’em on perfect city roads. I read the other day, Saabs, or whatever we called ’em, cost four arms and six legs just to drive ’em to church and back. This Mark must be worth a few bob if he owns one of them. Probably accounts why he’s on a bloody push bike, eh? That’s enough of twenty questions! Do you think I am a walking bloody encyclopedia or something? Now piss off and go bring me Norman.’
Sadly there is no photographic evidence of what transpired when Clappers went to the bar to collect a couple of ales, but one of the more artistically talented dole bludgers later presented Clappers with a life-like oil painting showing a Pom called Mark sitting in stone frozen fear just inches away from a completely frilled-out frilly, known locally to one and all as friendly Norman.
For the benefit of the uninitiated, a frilled-neck lizard, when aggravated, will display a huge frill around the head, emit scary sound effects, and open a septic looking mouth extra wide. Said lizard instantly becomes a most fearsome-looking monster.
Clappers had trained Norman to frill on cue, and Norman to date had extracted several criminal confessions while being up close and personal in the interview room.
Little did Mark suspect that Norman would not hurt a fly … correction, Norman loved flies, especially as snacks between meals. Ockerroo hosted billions of flies and Norman was doing his gut-full best to lower the population. So Mark was quite safe … provided he didn’t turn into a fly.
‘So, my constable tells me you want to photograph wildlife and, I gather, also pictorials of our beaut original Australians,’ says Clappers, plonking down a couple of beers and telling Norman to cool the terror act. ‘Well, Mark, you might be a bit uphill when it comes to wildlife, unless you are keen to crawl around in the dark, but we could do a contra deal. You assist the constable and me with the collection of a couple of dozen emu eggs and I will drive you out to the nearest Aboriginal campsite.’
‘Oh that would be smashing, sergeant. Yes, yes, of course I will assist you in the collection of eggs. As a lad I quite enjoyed collecting hens’ eggs. Bless you, sergeant, you Aussies are too kind. First there were the gentlemen in Burke who allowed me to buy them some drinks and later pointed me in the direction of Ockerroo, then the people who gave me a lift, and now the generosity of the local constabulary. I assure you, sergeant, I would never be granted such a privilege back in the blighty.’
‘No worries, mate. Drink up. Don’t book into the pub … the fleas are deadly. Bring yer bike and gear to the station. You can pitch yer tent in the station yard, next to the outside dunny and prisoner’s shower, only at night stay well clear of the top of the water tank. Oscar gets a bit stroppy when we have strangers to visit.’
‘Who is Oscar?’
’Don’t ask, but tell yer what … to be fair, I will let Oscar have his piccie took with you, right after we return from emu egg collecting. Have we got a deal?’
‘Certainly, sergeant, and you can always trust an English gentleman to keep his word.’
‘Good on yer, sport. Hope you fancy baked goanna. Sal reckons we are having that for dinner tonight.’
As they were driving towards the emus’ favourite nesting area, the Pom was stupid enough to ask, ‘Why does it take three of us to collect a few emu eggs, sergeant Clappers?’
‘Well yer see, Mark,’ says Clappers, ‘yer average emu is a trifle bigger than a Pommie chook, and their eggs are about the size of Aussie footy balls. They weigh around three stubbies for each and every egg.’
‘Oh I say, that is a meal and a half in just one egg. Are you sure you are not pulling my leg, sergeant Clappers?’
‘Would I lie to you? Look at my honest copper’s dial, Mark. Hell, I was convent-raised and bred on buckets of truthfulness, mate. Sister Mary Michael said I was the lad most likely to go to an early Heaven, right before she whacked me with six of the best.’
‘Tell him about the nest, sarge,’ says constable Bent, spluttering his life away, trying to constrain his mirth.
‘Yeah well, the bloke emu digs a shallow hole, about the length of a cricket pitch, and as soon as the hen whips in to lay the whopping great eggs, he gets busy creating a dirty big three storey mound over the top of them so as to keep ’em all nice and warm and incubated.’
‘What happens next?’ the now totally mesmerized Pom asked.
‘Well, Mark, she choofs off to go have romantic conversation with other available males, while he, poor sod, is left on his Pat Malone to stand guard over his unhatched offspring.’
‘And then you go in and pinch the eggs,’ laughs an ever-excited Mark.
‘Yeah, mate,’ says Clappers, ‘that is where you come in, but so as not to confuse yer mental capacity, I will tell you all about that as soon as we have a good decko at the nest, which I reckon should be coming up like chunder at an AA birthday party.’
‘I still do not understand why it needs three of us just to collect a few eggs,’ insisted Mark as soon as they arrive at the designated spot.’
‘Well, Mark, you see it is like this … you, old mate, are what is called a decoy. You are going to distract the attention of that dirty big fearsome looking male, while I streak in with me shovel and dig like crazy to pinch the eggs.’
‘What is the constable going to do?’ asks the ever-wondering Mark.
‘He is what is known in the trade as riding shotgun. Should the male emu decide to attack you, the constable is instructed to shoot it dead. Believe me, Mark, constable Bent is a highly trained police marksman. I know from personal experience he can hit a water tank at ten yards … no risk.’
‘What do I do to distract the attention of the male?’ asked Mark, who was now addicted to asking stupid questions.
‘Well first up, Mark, we need you to drop yer dacks.’
‘Drop my what?’
‘Dacks, trousers, strides, shorts, any one of the lot … take yer pick mate.’
‘Why, sergeant Clappers, are you asking me to remove my trousers?’
’Because Mark, old mate, any moment from now we are going to turn you into just the sexiest looking female emu for a hundred miles around, no risk. Show Mark the emu skin, constable. You see, Mark, this magnificent skin, feathers and all, at one time belonged to a genuine living emu. Now between this skin and your now fully exposed lily white spindly Pommie legs, you will be absolutely irresistible to any blood-red horny male emu.
‘Bend over at the waist. That’s it, Mark … we’ll attach this cloak of emu feathers, starting with your neck, down over your back, just tie it into your thighs, beautiful. Now tuck your left arm in along your body. Excellent … you are a bloody natural, Mark. Okay, raise your right arm straight up above your bent head. Fantastic. Next, just bend your wrist forward so it looks like the head of the emu.
‘Oh Mark, old mate, that is just sooooooo perfect, don’t you agree constable Bent? I’ll bet Mark’s mum would give a pile of quids to see her ever-loving son pretending to be a sexy female emu.
’Go for a little walk, will you please, Mark. Yep, that is quite good except it is more what I would call a Millicent gait, while a genuine emu tends to move with a jerky strut … now that is soooo much better, Mark. Hey, old mate, you have got it down pat. The Aborigines have being doing this trick for the past fifty thousand years, but I swear, Mark, you are the best emu I have ever seen.
‘Honestly, sergeant Clappers, do you really think I make an attractive emu decoy?’
‘Would I, a Catholic-educated member of the New South Wales police force, ever lie to you, Mark? Okay, it’s time for curtain call. When you go out, just strut around the front of the nest until you capture his attention, then wriggle yer bum a bit and draw him well away while I dash in to collect the eggs.’
Everything went according to plan, until the moment when the totally-smitten enamoured male emu quite naturally decided to deliver an emu’s kiss … the human equivalent of which would be a surprise vigorous peck upon a sensitive area right where the female emu tail feathers would normally reside.
This was emu sign language for ‘Gosh, you are gorgeous. How about you and I become close and intimate?’
There was a unearthly screaming curse that startled every type of wildlife within a radius of five miles.
Unfortunately, the romantically-inclined male emu, completely unaccustomed to such rejection, dropped dead from the shock.
Clappers spotted a column of human sized dust speeding off across the flats faster than the speed of sound. ‘Hop in the van and go catch Mark, will yer constable? If he keeps that pace up he should be half way to Alice Springs before midnight.’*****************************
Suffice to say I have insufficient time in which to recount Mark’s visit to the Aboriginal campsite or his subsequent promised photographic meeting with Oscar, but I am happy to report that, twelve months after the collection of the commissioner’s lady wife’s emu eggs, George delivered to Clappers a letter from The Director,Derbyshire Mental Health Services, NHS Trust,Trust Headquarters, Bramble House, Kingsway Hospital, Derby, UK:
“We are pleased to advise that Mark is responding well to treatment. He has ceased making loud annoying booming noises while sitting on that huge green over-sized egg.
We fully expect Mark will, within the next few weeks, return to the bosom of his family and enjoy a normal problem-free lifestyle. Thanking you for the concern and kind thoughts you have shown to Mark during what must have been a most unfortunate experience in outback Australia.”
Clappers is caught in a spot of bother, The commissioner has sent an order he cannot refuse…A case of emu eggs or an immediate transfer to the badlands of Wilicanna..A delayed mail delivery means insufficient time to organize specialist Aboriginal assistance…Then like a guardian angel..a stranger arrives in town…Little does he realize he is about to become the sacrificial Lamb in Clappers devious thinking for divine salvation.