Anne van Alkemade put out the challenge: Words from Pictures.
Presented us with a picture (*Whirligig*’s) and wished us: happy writing.
The low point of my career was being sent to a one-teacher school, in the area known by some as Hay, Hell and Booligal.
After all I had not done my compulsory country service yet and I half suspect that someone in head office thought it might teach me a lesson if I was sent almost as far southwest as you could go and still be in our state.
I have already told how, running out of petrol, in my little pride and joy, my v.w. twice on my way to that appoint on the “Hay Plains”, had me arrive at midnight at my destination, one of three buildings in ‘the town’, the pub!
And, how things went downhill from there.
While boarding in the pub, I waited hours in the heat of most evenings, sitting outside, in the dark, waiting to get sleepy, as the little generator supplying electricity, kept the beer cold inside but allowed little lighting.
I found a place to board, twelve miles out of town but upset the people there, when I did not realise how precious the tank water was and I was pretty useless when suddenly a whole lot of wild pigs invaded the place and the lady of the house needed help catching them by the back legs to supply her with some free meat.
The third place was even further away but, at least, they took me in. That way I could drive their daughter to my school.
It’s there where Anne’s picture comes in.
I have tried hard to forget those two school terms spent there but I remember huge breakfasts with lots of toast and fried eggs and bacon and the lady of the house swearing at the frying pans as they spat and spluttered hot fat at her.
Once again I spent the evening hours sitting in the dark, outside my one little room, on the property, which had long ago been used as a schoolroom. No doubt making use of the materials sent out by the Correspondence School, located in William Street, Sydney.
So, once or twice I did sit with the people who lived there, managing the property and Anne’s picture made me think of how I sat there with the family and one or two elderly men and one of these was telling how he’d once had such a great night, somewhere between there and Adelaide. He’d never had so much to drink as that night. He’d had such a good time!
It put all those songs and poems that I’d been teaching, the previous three years into some perspective.
I had played the accordion and the kids had sung Click Go The Shears and Farewell to Old England forever… They had recited with me and learnt by heart the poetry of A.B.Patterson and Henry Lawson.
And I still love those poems.
I had known that shearers, like this man, spent their lives going from property to property, working very hard until all the sheep were shorn, their gazes fixed on the bare-bellied Joe, hoping they would get her so that they could make the ringer go and that, when the work was done that they would very likely go and spend up big at the pub afterwards.
But that evening, sitting by an open fire, listening to this man’s description of the best time he’d ever had, I had a window into a different world. That was happiness?
Believe me. I am not criticising his drinking. Friday evenings spent with friends, a few years later, in Balmain, playing 500 and drinking VERY cheap wine, including Blue Rhapsody (while LOOKED like kerosene and tasted like it), rate up there, for me, on the list of very happy times. Afterwards, weaving my way home, at 1 p.m., just before booze buses started making us think about the evils of the demon drink.
Anne’s picture, lent to her by Whirligig just represents the life of that elderly man, with the very well-worn face, apparently spending a life-time going from property to property shearing sheep.
By the way, I’m sure it wasn’t true but it was rumoured that teachers who had had some difficulties, e.g., with classroom discipline, were sometimes offered work at the correspondence school.
It’s probably an urban legend that one particular elderly lady, had a habit of shouting at the students, coming out of the elevators, for their occasional visits, from distant parts of New South Wales, to meet the teachers, who worked with them through correspondence, to go away!!!!
Not true! Who knows what is being said about my eccentricities!!
Meanwhile, I still love The Old Bark School, The Drover’s Wife, The Geebung Polo Club and I’m sure that many a good time has been had in shearing sheds and in venues like the Ettamogah Pub.
(My son has been known to sing and play in one of those.)
“How can they take a boy, straight out of Holland”, my mother said. “And send him to a place like that?”