We drove in silence that sunny morning. I was thinking about what the Cocky and his sons would be like. Jim was probably wondering who he was going to decide to work for. An hour or so later, we turned off the Lake Cargelligo road and drover over the cattle ramp into a property called Kia Ora.
As we went over the ramp I noticed the name on the 4 gallon tin mail box which read
DICK & RUBY SKIPWORTH
We drove down the hard, dirt road which ran alongside the fence, then veered off towards a large well-built colonial house with a massive machinery shed along side of it. In the far corner of the house paddock was a big, new shearing shed and yards. Further over, in the corner was a large dam with a tall windmill. The blades of the mill were squeaking as the little bit of air gently blew them around.
Jim pulled up the old Holden Ute right in front of the big machinery shed.
“Old Dick should be around here somewhere. I arranged to meet him here.”
We both got out of the Ute and sat on the hood at the front. No sooner had we made ourselves comfortable, an iron gate clanked and a Cocky in a fine-quality squatters hat, walked over towards us. He was about 55 and had the usual weather-beaten lines in his face. Sticking out of his mouth was a cigarette holder with a Log-Cabin, hand-rolled in the end. He wore a pair of green King Gee overalls and a pair of McWilliams elastic-sided riding boots on his feet.
“G’day Dick.”, said Jim, as he approached with a couple of red Kelpies at his heels. The dogs gave a couple of barks.
“Sit down, ya stupid bastards!”, he said to the dogs. “G’day Smithy.”, he said to Jim. “How’re ya goin’ mate?”
“Not too bad Dick.”
“Bit hot for fencing Smithy, isn’t it?”
“Yeah Dick, ya not wrong there mate.”
“This is Yorky, Dick. He’s the lad I was telling ya about. You’ll like him Dick, he’s a real good worker.”
“G’day Yorky.”, said Dick Skipworth.
“G’day Mr. Skipworth.”, I said.
“The names Dick! We don’t stand on ceremony around here mate ‘cause we all work as hard as each other so there’s no need for it.”
“Who ya driving for this year Smithy?”
“Haven’t made mi mind up yet Dick. Whoever’s got the best gear and pays the most, I suppose.”
“That’s our place.”, said Dick. “I’m getting too old to drive the headers so they’ve got me driving the semi’s this year.”
“Oh well Dick, do ya good to ease up a bit mate. You’ve earned it after all these years.”
“Ease up mi arse. If I stop working I’d probably die in a few weeks so best not to stop, eh Smithy?”
“Ya might be right at that, Dick.”
I took mi two cases out of the back of Jims Ute. I grabbed the trumpet and rifle from off the front seat.
“Not a bad-looking pea-rifle ya got there Yorky.”, said Dick.
“Yeah, she’s not bad.”
“There’s plenty of Roos to shoot up the top end of my place, Yorky. Mi oldest boy Colin is always chasin’ them off of the crop. They’re a fucking nuisance, the bastards!”
The fact that Dick smoked and swore told me he was probably a good bloke.
“Alright Dick, I’d best be getting back. Don’t worry Yorky, you’re in good hands here. Old Dick will look after ya mate.”
“Less of the fucking ‘old’, Smithy!”, said Dick, with a big grin across his face.
“See ya in town sometime Yorky.”, said Jim, as we shook hands.
He got in his Ute and turned her slowly around and the last thing I noticed was a puff of thick blue smoke that came out of the window from the Monopole Midget cigar.
“Git out’a there ya mongrel fucking bastard!”, roared Dick.
I thought he was talking to me so I snapped to attention.
“Not you, Yorky. I was yelling at that fucking dirty dog of mine.”
“Why? What’s he done?”
Dick pointed to something behind me and when I turned around, his old dog Tim had pissed on one of mi good suitcases.
“Better pick those cases up Yorky before he claims the rest of ‘em. Give us the small case and the rifle. I’ll carry it across to the house for ya mate.”
Dick Skippie took off back towards the gate where he’d just come from. We went through the tall, tubular steel gate and into a backyard, which was all fenced in so the chooks couldn’t get out. The back of the Colonial-style house had a large veranda round it. We walked up a couple of steps, through the veranda and into the large kitchen area.
Dicks’ wife Ruby was busying herself in the kitchen when we walked in. She was a small, gray-haired lady around the same age as Dick. Her face was also somewhat weathered by Bush life but thankfully, for her, not as bad as Dicks’ was. Although she was slight of build, she had a good strong voice when she said ‘Gooday’ to me.
“Ya can stay in Colins’ room Yorky.”, said Dick. “There’s a spare bed in there and it’s a big room. You’ll be mainly helping the boys up in the wheat paddocks. That way you’ll both be able to get each other up if one sleeps in.”
Dick was right. Colins’ room was plenty big enough for the two of us. I slid my suitcases under the bed, along with the trumpet box and stood mi rifle in the corner after I’d double-checked that it was unloaded.
When I came out of the bedroom, Dicks’ wife had made me a good cuppa’ tea and a plate of homemade scones were sitting on the table in front of me.
“Help ya’ self to the scones, Yorky.” She said as I sat down. “There’s fresh butter there and a couple of jars of homemade jam.”
“Thanks.”, I said, as I reached for one of the scones which looked real inviting.
After a quick smoko, Dick and I went back out to the machinery shed.
“We gotta get all these headers checked over and repaired before the season starts, ‘cause once we start we won’t have time to stop for repairs. We’ll be flat out mate, like a lizard in the Sun.”
Dick showed me a few things that he wanted doing so I busied myself cleaning and greasing a PTO header. As I was working I noticed a fawn-colored Ute screaming down from the ramp, kicking up a cloud of dust behind it.
“Here comes our Kevin”, said Dick. “He always seems to be in a fuckin’ hurry the way he drives!”
The Holden, with a couple of red Kelpies in the back, broadsided to a halt right in front of the shed. The door opened and a young bloke of 23 got out of the drivers side. He was a younger version of Dick but with a much strong build. He wore green King Gee work pants, boots and a bush shirt with the sleeves rolled up above the elbows. His brown, hairy arms were quite thick and he wore a sweat-stained squatters hat, a slightly different style than Dicks’.
“G’day.”, he said as he walked over to us.
“G’day Kevin”, said Dick. “This is Yorky. He was workin’ for Smithy but it’s too hot for fencing now so he’s gonna help us out for the wheat season.”
“G’day Yorky.”, said Kevin, with a big, cheeky smile. “How ya goin’ mate?”
“G’day Kevin, good to meet ya.”, I said.
Kevin had a good, firm handshake and something told me we were going to be good friends for a while.
“Give Yorky a hand to git that tire off, will ya Kevin. We got to fix that puncture before we can move that header.”
“No worries.”, said Kevin as he grabbed a large wheel wrench. “Ya from Yorkshire are ya Yorky?”
“Yeah. I’ve been out here since May this year.”
“Is that old Smithy Bastard still chasing those fuckin’ parrots mate?”, he asked.
“Yeah. We got a lot a’ young ones this year. He’s building a big new Avery at the back of his house.
“Has he pumped another kid outta’ that young missus of his yet?”
“Well, he’s got 4 that I know of.”
“That horny old Bastard has got a few more kids scattered around the Bush in various places.”
“I don’t know anything about that.”, I said.
“Well, I suppose that’s his business but he’s a damn good fencer. He put a few miles of fence up around our top paddocks last year. Did a good job too. He knows his stuff when it comes to fencing, does old Smithy! Where did ya work before that Yorky?”
“Burt Booths’ place.”
“Jesus-fuckin’-Christ mate. How did ya git on with that mean ole Bastard?”
This gave us both a bit of a laugh.
“Not too good. He once chased me through the Mali with an axe. He was gonna split me in two.”
“Christ mate, you’re lucky to be alive! Old Burt’s gone through more Pommies than shit-house paper. I know at least 4 good blokes that pulled the pin on him.”
“Yeh, he made it pretty hard for me.”
“How long were you there?”
“Five and a half months.”
“Oh that’s not too bad. There was a good Pommy called Stan Grantham, he was there at least a couple of years. Did ya slip old Kay a length or two to make up for it Yorky?” He said with a huge grin.
“Don’t be silly mate!”, I said with a laugh. “She’s an old woman and besides she had too many gray hairs on her chin for my liking, Kevin.”
“That’s no problem mate, ya could have tore ’em out with ya teeth and banged her regardless!”
“Didn’t fancy old Kay Booth, Yorky?”, said Dick in a quiet, joking way.
“Not really Dick.”
“I don’t think old Burt does either.”, he said.
“He’s too tight to fuck her.”, said Kevin. She thought she was marrying a big-hearted generous cocky when she first started writing to old Burt but after a few years of livin’ with him, she got dried up, just like him."
“She wasn’t a bad-lookin’ woman for a Pommy when she first came out here.”, said Dick.
“Anyway, hurry up and git that tire off. I’ve gotta go into the Lake to order some spare parts so we’ve got a few on hand for the wheat season. Ya might take a quick run around those sheep across the road Kevin. I noticed a couple of flyblown bastards in ’em when I drove aqround last time.”
“Me and Yorky will have a look as soon as we’ve got this puncture fixed.”
“That’ll do, the bastard!”, said Kevin, as he tightened the nuts on the wheel. “Unless you can tighten ’em a bit more Yorky.”
I put the large cross wrench on the nuts and gave a good heave on the handle. The nuts turned about a quarter of a turn each.
“Grand Streuth Yorky! You’re a strong little bastard for a Pommy.”, he said in his joking way.
“I’m gitting there Kevin.”, I said with a smile.
“It must have been all those Grass Parrots old Burt fed ya mate.”
“How d’ya know about that?”
“Peter Smith is a mate of mine. He just lives down the road aways. He was telling me about ya a few months ago. C’mon Yorky, that’ll do mate. Let’s go and have a look at those sheep that the old man was talking about.”
As we drove over the ramp, a gray Holden Ute turned into the driveway.
“Where ya going?”, said a tall, rough-looking, whiskery man of about 30. He wore a Squatters hat that was on its last legs. The crown had a large hole in it at the front and the sides were stained with sweat and oil marks.
“Going over the road to check on a few flyblown sheep.”, said Kevin.
“Hang on till I park mi Ute and I’ll come with you.”
“Hurry up then!”, said Kevin. “I ain’t got all fucking day Sport!”
The man drove past us and parked his Ute alongside the fence.
“Who’s that?”, I said to Kevin.
“It’s mi older brother mate, his names Colin.”
“He’s a rough-lookin’ character.”
“Yeh, he’s an ugly looking bastard too. He’s not as handsome as I am nor as modest for that matter but he doesn’t scub up too bad when he goes to town.”
“How old is he?”
“Oh, he’s about 33.”
Just then, my side door of the Ute opened.
“Slide over, ya bastard!”, said a loud ocker accent.
I slid over into the middle of the bench seat.
“G’day Sport!, My names Colin. How ya goin’?”
“Good.”, I said. “My name’s Yorky.”
“I know.”, he said.
“How d’ya know.”
“Everybody knows your name mate. All the Sheilas in town are talkin’ about ya.”
“Are they really?”
“No mate, I’m only jokin’ with ya. I just past the old man on his way to town and he told me ya name.”
He slammed the door of the Ute and we took off down the West Wyalong dirt road where the paddock gate was. As we were driving, the Kelpies in the back started to fight. Colin stuck his head out of the window and yelled, “Sit down ya mongrel fuckin’ bastards. There’s plenty of work for all of ya!”
The dogs went quiet as they watched the sheep.
“Get the gate Digger.”, said Kevin to his brother.
“Why don’t I get the gate Kevin?”, said his brother in response.
As Colin got out of the Ute to get the gate, I said to Kevin, “Why d’ya call him Digger?”
“Well mate, just look at the bastard, that’ll tell ya. Doesn’t he look like he’s just crawled out of the trenches of France?”
When I thought about it and watched him open the gate, I saw that Kevin was right ‘cause Digger was wearing a pair of old stained karkie army shorts and an old blue singlet with a few holes in it.
We drove through the gateway and Digger closed it behind us.
“I’ll ride in the back with the dogs.", said Digger. “It’ll be easier to spot the flyblown ones that way.”
“I’ll drive around the outsides of the Paddocks first!”, yelled Kevin. “Keep the dogs in the back till we spot one!”
Slowly we drove around the Paddock and the sheep started to run towards the center.
Digger called out, “There’s one Kevin, over in that small mob.”
“Send Joe out!”, yelled Kevin. “He knows what to do!”
Joe was a large, young red Kelpie with a white blaze down the front of his chest. He also had a white mark which ran up between his eyes to the top of his head and a small splash of white on the end of his tail/
Joe jumped out the back of the Ute and ran across the Paddock towards where the flyblown sheep were. He split the tail-end of the small mob off from the main, larger mob.
“Fetch ’em here”, yelled Kevin, who was now out of the Ute calling out orders to Joe who seemed to know exactly what he was doing.
“Come on Yorky!”, He said. “We’ll git behind ’em with Joe and drive ’em into that corner!”
“How are we gonna get the flyblown ones out Kevin?”
“There’s only a couple of ‘em in that mob Yorky, so as soon as we git ’em tight up in the corner we’ll run in and grab ’em.”
“I’ll go around this side and grab ‘em so they can’t make a break for it!”, said Digger. “Ya see that one over there Yorky with the flies all around his arse? When I tell ya, you grab him and I’ll grab this one over here!”
“Are ya ready Digger?”, yelled Kevin.
“Ready!”, yelled Digger.
“Alright, GO!”, yelled Kevin.
We ran towards the mob of sheep that were pushed up tight in the corner of the fence. My sheep tried to make a break for it so I dived on it as it tried to run past me. Kevin had forced his sheep up into the corner and was holding it with his knees and Digger had a hold of the back leg of another.
“Tip him over on his back Yorky and drag him over here!”, said Kevin .
As soon as I was close to Kevin with the sheep, he said, “I’ll hold ‘em both York. You run over to the Ute and get the hand shears and that large can of sheep dip. There’s an old rag tied to the end of it, grab that while you’re there mate!”
The shears, stick and sheep dip were right where Kevin said they’d be so I pulled ‘em out of the Ute and carried ’em over to the fence corner.
“Good on ya Yorky.”, said Digger who now had his sheep on its’ side, holding it down with his knee. “Give me the shears Yorky.”, he said, as he rolled the sheep on its back, against his legs.
Digger started to cut the wool away from the big Whethers tail. It was a dirty, black rotten color and it started to stink more as he snipped away.
Before long, it was easy to see how the blowflies can kill a sheep if it’s not caught in time. As Digger cut more wool away, it revealed a large patch of red, inflamed skin with tiny holes down into it. A few maggots were wriggling around on the surface of the skin and once Digger had snipped away all the dead-looking stinkin’ wool back as far as the good wool. He said, “Give me that can of dip Yorky.”
I unscrewed the cap off of the drum and Digger said, “Pour some of the dip over the bare spot and I’ll dab it on with the rag.”
No sooner had I started to pout the white-looking liquid on the sheeps’ arse, lots of small white maggots wriggled out of the holes in the sheeps’ flesh.
“That’ll fix the bastards!”, said Digger. “They don’t like that sheep dip. Pour some more over here Yorky, there’s a few more maggot holes just there.”
The sheep dip worked really well. As soon as it hit the sheeps’ skin, the maggots started to wriggle out.
“That’ll do.”, said Digger. “Stand back Mate while I let it up!”
Digger let the old Wheather go. It gave a few twists of its body as it tried to regain its feet. Once it got a grip with its toes it was up on its feet and away across the Paddock to join the rest of the mob. The same procedure was followed with the remaining two sheep and as soon as they were soaked with the sheep dip, they were released to join back up with the mob.
“I can’t see anymore Digger, can you?”, yelled Kevin as we drove on around the Paddock.
“No Sport!”, yelled Digger. “I think we’ve gotten ’em all now!”
“Let’s go home then and have a bite to eat. It’s about lunch time. Mum will wonder where we’ve got to, if not.”, said Kevin.
After a meal of mashed potatoes, cold mutton and tomatoes, we rested for half an hour and then went back to work in the machinery shed for the rest of the day.
All that week, Digger, Kevin and myself worked around the machinery shed to get the tractors and headers, trucks and augers up to scratch for the wheat season which was due to start any day now.
One morning, Dick Skipworth said to his sons, “I was lookin’ at that Paddock of wheat over at your place yesterday Digger. I think it might go today.”
“Yah reckon?”, said Digger. “I thought it was still a bit green.”
“She’s pretty close to going.”, said Kevin. “So why don’t we take the machinery over there and do a couple of rounds? We’ll be able to tell as soon as it’s in the bin.”
“Good idea”, said Dick. “You two drive the headers across and Yorky and me will go ahead in my Ute so we can git the gates for ya. Stick that 10 gallon drum of grease in the back of my Ute Yorky before we forget it.”
Once we got up to the Paddock, Kevin pulled into line first and set off to make one round of wheat stripping to see how dry the wheat was. When he got back to the start where we were all waiting for him, Dick pronounced the golden-colored wheat to be dry enough and the season began.
Standing at the gate, looking out over a 2,000 acre wheat Paddock was quite a sight. Let me tell you. The wheat was about 4’6" tall on average and it appeared to be an ocean as the gentle breeze blew it from side to side. The breeze made the wheat look like small, rolling waves as I stared off into the distance. My view was only periodically broken by the few, large shade trees that had been left standing for the sheep, once the Paddock was stripped.
Around Lake Cargelligo, all the Cockies used to sow clover seed with their wheat so the sheep would have something to graze on after the stalk had been burned off.
“Let’s go Yorky.”, said Dick.
“We’re off back home to pick up the Semi and the flatbed. Then we’ll bring ’em back up the Paddock so the boys have something to auger out into.”
When we got back to the Homestead, Dick started up the Semi-trailer which had 2 large wheat bins on the back. As soon as it was going he said to me, “Can you drive Yorky?”
“I’ve only driven Jims’ old Bedford.”
“Christ Mate! If ya can drive that old piece of shit ya can drive anything! Hop in my new Ute and go ahead so ya can open the gates mate.”
“What’s the gears Dick?”, I said as I got in his Ute.
“Towards ya and down for 1st. Up to neutral and straight up for 2nd and straight down through neutral for 3rd. Reverse is towards ya and up.”
“Does the clutch need doubling Dick?”
“No Mate. This is a fuckin’ new Ute, not a fuckin’ old 40s’ relic like Smithy drives. We’re fuckin’ rich Yorky!”, he said with a wink.
I closed the door of the new Ute, turned the key and it came to life. The motor was so quiet compared to Jims’ vehicles that I had to listen hard to make sure it had started.
“Git a fuckin’ move on will ya Yorky?”, yelled Dick, out of the window of the Semi. “It’ll be fuckin’ dark before we get there at this rate!”
‘Towards me and down for 1st.’, I repeated to myself as I watched the hands pull the stick into gear. ‘Clutch out slowly and give her some revs.’
To my astonishment and great delight, the new Holden Ute cruised off as smooth as butter. ‘Click’, ‘Click’, up into 2nd a few more revs and a ‘Click’, ‘Click’, down into 3rd. A big shit-eatin’ grin stole across my mouth as the new Ute glided over the dirt track road.
The grin on my face turned to a big smile as soon as the Speedo hit 35 miles per hour!
Dick was right up my arse end with the big, red Semi; pushing and pulling it through numerous gears without the slightest sound of a grind. Just then, when I looked into he rear vision mirror, he was madly waving his hand for me to go faster. I took a deep breath to try and stop my happy heart pounding with excitement and pushed the accelerator
down a bit more
When I looked at the Speedo I was now doing 45 MPH. I checked the rear vision mirror again in case I was going too fast. Dick was still right up the arse end of the Ute, waving his hand madly and mouthing the words, “Git a fuckin’ move on Yorky!”
So I smiled even wider now as I pushed the peddle down another half-inch. I was now doing almost 60 and when I checked the rear vision mirror, old Dick had a smile on his face.
I was so ecstatic at being behind the wheel of a new Ute at 60 MPH that I forgot about the turn and drove straight past it! When I looked in the mirror, I saw the red Semi just disappearing up the turn off behind the row of pine trees.
“Oh shit! Scungy, fucking Bastard.”, I was so happy for a few seconds that I’d missed the turn off! What will old Dick say now? He’s probably opening the gate right this minute!
“Where the fuck have you been Yorky? I thought you’d decided to go to Sydney in my new Ute!”
“No Dick.”, I said. “I missed the turn.”
“Is your foot sore Yorky?”, he said to me.
“No Dick. Why?”
“Then tread on the fuckin’ accelerator a bit harder! Ya not gonna hurt the fuckin’ thing! We wanna’ got there today, not to-fuckin’-morrow!”, he said, grinning slightly around the cigarette holder.
At last we arrived back in the wheat Paddock. The timing was perfect. Kevin, who had m ade a full round of the Paddock was just coming down the last side. Pulling alongside the Semi with the 2 large wheat bins on the back, he brought the Auto-header to a stop and pulled the lever to activate the Auger. The cogs snapped into place which started the worm drive and a stream of golden Insignia wheat grain gushed into the bin making a sound like hail on a corrugated tin roof. As the golden wheat was transferred into the bin, the excess dust flew in the direction of the slight breeze.
Once Kevins’ header was empty, he pulled out into the wheat again and Digger, who was not far behind him, pulled the tractor-drawn header alongside the bin and the procedure was repeated.
Dick and I brought the other flat-top truck with one large bin onboard up the Paddock and positioned it a hundred yards away from the Header.
“Climb aboard, Yorky!”, said Kevin, after he emptied his load. “Ya can ride around on the header and keep me company Mate, until it’s time to grease her up.”
For a while we chatted about our backgrounds and lives. He told me he had been married for about a year now and that he lived in the Lake at a one-story house that his Mother-in-Law owned. Kevin was an easy-going young man who had been brought up on a wheat property all his life. He learned to drive as soon as he could see through the windscreen, which he said was around 8 years. He was a very adaptable character who seemed to be able to take things as they came. Once he said me, “What d’ya smoke those stinkin’ fags for Yorky?”
“Body habit Mate. I’ve been smoking since I was 8, just around the age you learned to drive.”
“Now I understand Mate. I learned to drive and you learned to smoke.”
More of the Adventures of Yorky, the Pommy Shearer