Run like the clappers

A bloke had to be pretty bloody stupid, two kangaroos short in the paddock, to even think about driving two hundred miles west of Burke to score a drink at Mulligan’s pub in a one-dunny town called Ockerroo. For starters, it ain’t there any more. The dot dropped off the map of Oz during the last great record drought. Folks got the message when the emus started leaving town. Everyone knew that when something as stupid as an emu was shifting camp, it was high time for humans to be doing likewise.

Still, it wasn’t always like that. Some two hundred and fifty poor misguided souls, along with forty-five billion flies, actually called it home.

Another two residents, who had no choice in the matter, were a pair of unfortunate coppers who had been transferred from city life to experience law and order and traffic control in the bush, although in Ockerroo it was more like living in the desert.

One had been relocated because he was a sergeant and you had to have one of them in every joint called a town that owned up to having a pub … in this case the not-so-salubrious tin and timber creation called Mulligan’s.

The other young copper discovered the ignominy of bush transfers about five seconds after the silly twit said something stupid to a fellow human. Never considered too flash when the recipient is definitely far superior to the rank of constable.

Copper-wise there was not a lot of policing required in a joint like Ockerroo. Apart from Mulligan’s there was a bank with a staff of one, but never any sign of bank robbers; a general store-cum-petrol pump; a one teacher school; Micky Harris the butcher, and that was about all that cluttered up the one and only main street, apart from the School of Arts.

Every country town, even one as ratshit as Ockerroo, had to have its very own School of Arts building, a place in which to celebrate births, deaths, marriages, footy finals, CWA meetings and present on public display the soul of the community that existed outside of Mulligan’s pub.

The single curious feature about Ockerroo was its hill. You see, all the land for miles around was a flat as a stale beer, but due to a seismic disturbance about fifty million years ago the land bubbled up to form a massive lump of turf, a speed bump on the edge of nothing.

Seeing as the road from Burke ran in a dead straight line to Ockerroo, everyone claimed the surveyors suffered a perverse sense of humour by instead of doing a curvy bit before running into town, they laid the bitumen up and over Charlie’s Hill, as it was now called.

This hill was about to play a soul-destroying role in the future life of police sergeant Clappers Clarke.

Should you happen to think he was called Clappers because of his amazing ability to clobber low life crims and clap them in irons, then, sorry mate, you would be sadly mistaken on that score. The local citizens did not own up to having any crims in Ockerroo. Plenty of drunks to be collected from Mulligan’s, but they were all nice friendly characters who, not wishing to face the wrath of their missus, would often voluntarily stagger to the cop shop to demand the safety of custodial accommodation, including a healthy breakie if Mrs C happened to be enjoying a charitable frame of mind upon that particular morning.

Clappers copped his nickname because he was equipped with piston-firing legs designed to run at supersonic speed, developed in his younger years chasing and annoying the hell out of lightning-fast dirty big goannas, a reptilian commodity which, because of a total lack of trees, was never attracted to settle down in the land of Ockerroo.

Now, poor Clappers Clarke, when he was in training, had to settle for running down stupid emus while preparing for the big local annual event.

You have no doubt heard of the world famous Stawell Gift, run every Easter down in the Grampians. Well, mate, that is nothing compared to the four hundred yard “Run Like the Clappers” sprint held every Australia Day at Ockerroo.

Clappers Clarke had won the race three years running. For a hundred miles around he was a bloody living legend. Now there was whisper of a few bets at Mulligan’s that he could not make it four in a row.

The problem for Clappers was that he had run out of training partners. The flaming emus had wised up to his unique training method and headed for distant lands as soon as they spotted the copper’s van making dust in their direction.

Cripes, this was his belly-button day and, instead of celebrating, poor Clappers Clarke grew quite despondent at the prospect of missing out of quality training in time for next big meet. Folks came from hundreds of miles around to watch the big event. Mulligan even had a special train-load of beer freighted to Burke, to ensure none of his patrons died a terrible death of thirst.

They were sitting under the fan in the fly-free zone of the sergeant’s office when the city-born twit happened to ask, ‘Hey sarge, how come they don’t call you Nobby? Every Clark I ever met was called Nobby Clark.’

‘The last bloke who asked me that question is still trying to figure out how he is going to survive his three-year transfer to the Wilcannia badlands. Would you would care to join him? … Nah, I didn’t think so, and seeing as I am such a nice big-hearted bloke, I will let you in on a spot of ancient history.

’According to police records, the very first Clark family came from a place called Duffield in merry England, although in 1648 it was not quite so merry, see. People in those days did not have surnames and as the population grew it became quite confusing, so the powers that be started naming folks after their type of employment, hence the butcher became Mr Butcher, the baker was Mr Baker, and so on. Everyone agreed that this was real beaut, except of course one poor fellow right at the bottom of the tree, the local bait man.

‘I don’t suppose you have heard of the roach? It’s a fish, and the good folk in Duffield liked nothing more for their tea than a nice fat roach, but only the bait man had the licence to supply the specialized tucker that you needed to catch such a fish from the local puddle, Ecclesbourne Creek. The problem for him was that this bait consisted of a horrible stinking mixture of turkey guts and livers of hare, and the whole baitman family were required to reside in isolation, well beyond the city walls.

’Citizens would leave their orders at a hole in the wall, so they could avoid physical contact with this unfortunate specimen of humanity.

‘Then, somewhere around 1650, one of the local yokels invented the fish net and, what do yer know mate, the good folk did not need the specialized bait any more. What with a wife and fifteen kids, it looked like the family was going to starve to death, so the city fathers of Duffield, being good Christian souls, decided that they could come back inside the city, providing they agreed to take a name change that still recognized the past calling, yet didn’t connect to any current profession. So instead of Baitman, he now answered to Mr Bateman and lived happily ever after.’

‘Fair enough, sarge, but what has that got to do with the name Clark?’

’Ah well, constable, as I was just about to explain, you may have noticed that we have an “e” on the end of our name. Today we spell the word clerk for the bloke who works in the office, but way back then they were called clark, and because only gentry or posh folk visited such offices, the clarks were required to be better dressed than the ordinary hoi polli. Seeing as the clarks hob-nobbed with society, they were called Nobby.

‘However, one section of the Clark tribe became far-better educated so we were granted the privilege to tack an “e”, for “educated”, onto our name. You are subservient to a superior sergeant Clarke, so piss off and make me a pot of tea before you start packing yer gear for Wilcannia.’

The returning pot of tea arrived, together with a largish box that had just been delivered by the local mail contractor who, as well as being illiterate, never discovered the meaning for all the outside stickers that instructed “DO NOT DROP”, “HANDLE WITH CARE” and “FRAGILE – THIS SIDE UP.”

Page 133 of the Police Manual stated that, should a suspicious package ever be delivered to a police station, such was required to be opened in an open area by the youngest constable on duty. Under no circumstances should the life and limb of a senior officer be endangered in such an exercise.

‘Would you like me to take it outside and shoot it, sarge?’ volunteered the constable, who seriously had no desires to be shipped off to the wilds of Wilcannia.

‘Give it here, you clot, and if it starts ticking then you may shoot it dead, but don’t hit me or you will have my Sal to deal with and, believe me, mate, she is deadly to young constables who damage her old man, even if it is in the line of duty.’

‘What do you reckon it is?’ asked the constable once the object emerged into daylight.

‘Well, according to this manual, it is a speed radar detector. Seems you point it at a car and it will show the speed of travel.’ Clappers stopped for a spell while he read an enclosed letter from the Department. ‘Have you booked anyone for speeding lately, constable?’

‘No sarge, did not know we had a speed limit, sarge.’

‘Umph, well neither have I. Seems how the commissioner is most unhappy that our station has the lowest number of speed infringements in the entire state of New South Wales … and possibly the whole world, seeing there is nothing in the police databank. Furthermore, upon receipt of this latest equipment we are commanded to go out and book some speedsters, without delay. Come on, constable, time for us to go visit Charlie’s hill.’

‘Are we going to take the van, sarge?’

‘Nah, constable, it’s better if we don’t let on how this is our new weapon to prevent speeding in the city of Ockerroo. If anyone asks, just tell ‘em it is a new device for counting emus. When the hoons hit town for the big race I will have you clock ’em for speeding as they come screaming down Charlie’s Hill. Hell, I reckon we should make a record killing before lunch. Gotta keep the commissioner happy, don’t we constable?’

‘Yes, sarge, but seeing as everyone around these parts does a hundred mile an hour just driving to the pub, don’t you think it might be a trifle illegal if we don’t have speed signs?’

‘Gotta hand it to yer, son, that is up there for thinking. Guess what you will be painting first thing tomorrow morning? Hey, Sal tells me you ain’t into running. Got a dicky knee or something?’

‘Yeah, that’s right sarge. Smashed it up playing footy. Sorry, sarge, my running days are over.

‘Pity, because ever since the emus buggered off I figured I might use you for a spot of training to bring me up to peak running condition in time for the Clappers in five days time.’

‘How about I drive the police van fairly fast and you see if you can catch me?’

‘Nah, I have to have something on two legs or the training does not seem natural. You see, son, training for a big race is not just about running. You have to have passion and motivation. A living animal that is pumping gallons of adrenaline to chase something … that spells competition in your soul. Catching a wild emu, now that was class. My two legs against the fastest bird in creation was something that brought you up to Olympic standard without having to worry about the stopwatch.’

‘Is the Run Like the Clappers sprint something like the Stawell Gift, sarge?’

‘Nah, that is for pussies. The Clappers sprint is a real man’s race, constable. We draw a line across the street outside Mulligan’s pub. They run the heats first and later in the arvo there’s the final, which is restricted to the six fastest runners. Everyone must run barefoot, and believe me in January that bitumen can cook the soles off anything that stands still for more than three seconds. Two hundred yards down the street, they place six slabs of beer, and remember a slab of beer weighs at least twenty pounds. Well, when the starter fires the gun you run like the clappers, grab a slab of beer, turn and do a mad dash back to Mulligan’s. Whoever crosses the line first gets to keep all the beer, plus what you won off the bookies’

Clarkie could see the look of stunned admiration upon the face of the young constable. ‘And what’s more, I have won the Clappers three years in a row and I intend to make this a world record number four.’

‘Bit early in the day for traffic, sarge. What do you hope to point the gun at for a speed test?’

‘Me, of course, you great nong. I’m going to come tearing down Charlie’s Hill and you, constable, are going use that gadget to record my famous awesome turn of speed’ …

The uniform came streaking past in a flash of blue. ‘Okay, constable, how did I go?’

‘Nothing, sarge. I pointed it right at you like you said, but the screen stayed blank sarge.’

‘Jeez eh, are you sure you read the manual ok.’

‘No worries sarge, I checked it page by page, double checked the battery, everything should be working just fine. I reckon it’s been damaged in transit. You know what old George is like when tossing freight around.’

‘Yeah, yer could be right there, constable. Okay, I’m going up the top to have another run, while I am not looking give it the Clarkie method for fixing something crook.’

’What’s that sarge?’

‘Give it a swift whack with yer baton to show who is the boss. Never fails when the lawn mower won’t start.’

Naturally, in a metropolis the size of Ockerroo, it did not take more than a stubby length in time for someone to yell, ‘Hey, the coppers are up to something at Charlie’s Hill.’

By the time of the fifth run quite a crowd of locals gathered to watch the action.

‘Have you started training for the Clappers, Clarkie?’ one yobbo was heard to yell.

‘Want me to drive to Burke and catch you an emu?’ offered another.

Clappers ignored the questions and the laughter. He was just too knackered to be bothered. There he stood, bent over, sucking in the desert air, trying to regain his strength for yet another trial run.

Young Timmy Williams stopped by on his way home from school and spotted the gadget being held by the constable. ‘Hey, that’s a radar speed gun. Me dad and I saw one of them when we went to Sydney last holidays.’

The crowd went dead silent. ‘What is a radar speed gun when it’s at home?’ some bloke asked.

‘Tells the coppers how fast yer driving’ says young Timmy, now the centre of attention and recognized authority on everything to do with coppers playing with radar speed guns.

‘Well, this one doesn’t work.’ says the constable.

‘It would if you turned it on’ countered Timmy, clicking the bottom switch and watching the red light flash.

They reckon until their dying day whoever was in that crowd will remember the amazing sight of the young city-bred constable streaking up the main street at eighty mile an hour with sergeant Clarkie going like the clappers only ten yards behind, yelling weird curses like ‘Got a busted footy knee, have you constable? You will have more than that when I catch yer. Better start packing for Wilcannia, you stupid bloody clot’, plus a few other curses not normally allowed in polite company, and especially in front of coppers.

With the local bookie taking bets on the side, they shot around the town three times before they both collapsed in a heap outside Mulligan’s pub. The crowd unanimously declared it a draw and dragged them inside for a reviver.

‘Well, constable,’ says a smiling sergeant, ‘that is the best training run I have ever had. I am going to nominate the pair of us to enter the four hundred yard sprint and you, son, had better run like the clappers, in case I beat yer.’

Run like the clappers

iAN Derrick

Tweed Heads, Australia

  • Artist
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Artist's Description

A local police sergeant is running for a world record in the outback town called Ockerroo. Problem is he has plumb run out of training partners….the emus have all left town …and his future prospect of winning the big race is now in jeopardy.

Artwork Comments

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