ENVIRONMENTAL HUGGING : An environmental tale for children of all ages

An environmental tale for children of all ages

Some claim humans have altered the environment.

Quite true, but when you are two hundred and fifty miles west of Burke in a one-dunny town called Ockerroo, believe me mate, it is the other way around.

Out there the dry arid air, the heat, the dust and the two hundred and sixty-four billion flies make you at one with the outback country. The body becomes tanned and leathery, the eyes take on a sun-cooked squint, and the ears hear rasping voices seeking urgent lubrication. The mind drifts off into a dimension of its own.

Up there in the tropics, where the rain pisses down in buckets, they call it Going Troppo. Out west — living with the emus, dole bludgers and the slightly mad — it is called Being Ockerrooed.

The two men crowded into what shade was left in front of the cop shop.

‘Bloody hot, even for here,’ says Clappers. ‘So, what went wrong on yer belly-button day to cop a name like Matthieu ?’

’An obscure uncle was the cause of my dilemma, sarge, seeing as I have to spell it out wherever I go. I seriously considered changing it until I came to Ockerroo.

’You see, Clappers, the sound “Matt” is an open and shut statement. Hell, I would be living on a diet of flies. On the other hand, when I pronounce the classical French “Matthieu”, I kinda spit ’em out at the end of the word.

‘Do you reckon that is a form of evolution within this environment sarge?’

‘Daltonio, that is Italian is it not?’ asks Clappers.

‘Yeah, I reckon I am a bit of a mongrel when it comes to my heritage. My great grandfather moved from Italy to Scotland to start an Italian ice cream shop, then came a couple of wars and when folks stopped killing each other, my father shipped out to the land of the kiwi, married a local sheila and eventually along came little Matthieu … phitt!! there goes another fly.’

‘How are things with you and the new teacher?’ asks Clappers.

‘Pretty good, I reckon. She has me shaving and wearing shoes. But Milly is a bit of a worry. I suspect she is Being Ockerrooed.’

‘What makes you think the beautiful Miss Centerfold is any different from when she arrived?’ asked Clappers.

‘Well, for starters, she has taken to hugging …’

‘Perfectly natural,’ Clappers interrupted, ‘for a beautiful young lady to go around hugging. My Sal does it all the time.’

‘Yeah, well, fair enough sarge, you have an ever-loving missus, but Milly, she goes around hugging emus.’

‘Emus?’

’Yep, two of ’em. She named them Ebony and Ivory after her piano keys. Cripes, sarge, she huggs ’em so much the emus now think Milly is their mother. They follow her everywhere, and I mean everywhere.

’Fair dinkum, before the kids march into school they all have to hug an emu on the way past. This year all the kids are swimming in environmental studies, of which our local emu population is the focal point. Milly even has them singing emu songs and doing emu dancing, which in the case of an emu is what you might call the environmental two-step.

‘You will not see it on your calendar, but Milly has declared next Monday to be the start of Hug an Emu week. Now, don’t you reckon she is Being Ockerrooed?’

‘You could be spot on there, old mate. Even Sal has gone strange of late. Hell, she won’t allow my pet Oscar to sleep in the house at night. Poor old fella has to sleep on top of the water tank.’

‘Cripes, sarge, wouldn’t that be cruelty to taipans to have Oscar sleeping out in the cold?’

‘Nah, not really see ’cause I gave him a blanket and all his favourite toys to keep him company. You know, Matthieu, you could have something there. Maybe there is a bit of the doc in you after all.
It’s just possible everyone is Being Ockerrooed, and only you and I are normal, eh?’

‘Yeah, spot on there, sarge, and yer know what …?’

‘Never met him.’

‘Yer know what, sarge? Couple of nights ago, when I thought I was in for a spot of Centerfold romance, she had me hugging the flaming emus while she ran the tape over every inch of their body from head to toe.’

‘Yer joking?’

‘No, I am fair dinkum, sarge. She is up to something but she wouldn’t tell me what. Kept on saying it was a state secret. She reckons she has discovered a way to help the environment.’

. . . . . . . . . .

Some four weeks after that conversation, the bulk goods carrier from Burke rumbled into town. This was always a major event among the locals wishing to be the first to have a squiz at what new luxury had arrived in the outback. Last month it was the broad-brimmed squatter hats complete with anti-fly netting so a bloke could converse or drink a beer without swallowing more than his expected share of flies.

The main item for discussion at Mulligans that night was the strange collection of boxes addressed to their emu-hugging school teacher. That and the sudden disappearance of Mattheiu Daltonio, who was sighted clutching a brand new tool box.

The Doc, as some had nicknamed him, was now happily ensconced up at the school house, to the sound of much banging, cursing and laughter … in that order.

The light of the next day made them none the wiser.

The good citizens of Ockerroo had to wait until two days prior to the long weekend before Milly Centerfold rose to tap the glass of a Dog’s Nose and inform one and all that come Friday at 3:30pm, she and the Doc were going to set out to travel from Ockerroo to Burke and back … by emu.

The population’s reaction to this announcement was mixed … some pissed themselves with unrestrained hilarity while others took bets on the odds of survival. ‘Cripes,’ said one bloke, ’that’s a round trip of five hundred bloody miles.’

Most seemed to be plonking their hard-earned dole money on a collection for an advanced funeral fund and memorial to the town’s first pseudo-doctor and latest school teacher, both victims of Being Ockerrooed. Chronic cases if they ever saw one.

By public demand school finished early on the momentous Friday and anyone still breathing emerged to have a decko at Miss Milly’s latest invention for travelling to Burke and back.

What they clamped their optics on was a pair of custom-made, lightweight gigs, fitted with racing bike wheels and road tyres and a specially-designed harness to accommodate emus, similar to what optimistic citizens observe when hoping to win a fortune at the trots.

Milly Centerfold, with her very best school marm voice, addressed the crowd to inform one and all of the beauty of hugging emus.

Seeking a reward of only a mixture of vegies and bugs, together with the required amount of hugging, these beautiful creatures were overjoyed at the prospect of travelling great distances while maintaining a fast steady trot.

Milly, together with her intrepid companion Matthieu, were about to prove the advantages of everyone in Australia using affordable, environmentally friendly individual transport instead of the petrol-guzzling pollution of motor cars.

Everyone agreed it was truly a memorable sight to see and hear a dedicated sheila in full flight explaining the virtues of the flightless.

Milly worked the crowd with all the impassioned zeal of a born-again visionary. Yes, it was all very well for them to be streaking around in their Holdens and Ford utes blowing pollution out of their exhausts. ‘But remember that Bob Dylan song’, Milly boomed out to her captivated audience, ‘The times they are a-changin’. Well, I have news for you, the times really are a-changin’. The message, my friend, is blowing in the wind, straight into the main street of beautiful Ockerroo, and it sings to me the song of the emu.’

Ockerroo was the capital of emu land. They had more of them than the rest of Australia.

Of course, every revolutionary invention that changes the culture of a nation has to be blessed with a name, and Milly now officially named this vehicle … the Ockerroo.

. . . . . . . . . .

‘How come you’re looking so miserable on this historic occasion?’ Clappers asked Mulligan.

‘Struth, would you be too if you owned the only pub in town. I’m about to lose a bloody fortune, and it is all down to that stupid nong Thomo Thompson.’

‘Oh yeah? What’s he done to cause you so much grief, then?’

‘He only stood up in the pub, my pub mind you, and shouted out, ’Hey, it’s a long weekend, why don’t we all follow Milly and her mad mate to Burke and back.’ You may not know it yet, Clappers, but come late this afternoon the entire town of Ockerroo will be bloody deserted. Right now the pub is next to empty while they all start packing camping gear and tucker to survive the journey. So tell me, Mr Law and Order, what do you intend to do about it?’

‘Geez, I reckon I had best tell Sal and constable Bent to start packing as well. Where the town goes I go, Mulligan, so you might as well pack yer tent and enjoy the holiday.’

‘With no trade for four nights running I will be next to flaming broke, mate.’

‘Tell you what,’ says Clappers, ‘roll out yer refrigerated van and promise not to trade in grog inside the Burke city limits, and not increase prices for on-the-road sales, and I will grant you a temporary licence to serve Ockerroo citizens travelling en-route. You can do this as a community service, protecting the lives of endangered humans likely to die of thirst.’

‘You sure I can’t bump the prices up a bit on account of travelling costs?’

‘Not a cent, mate. Better to have half a profit than none at all, eh?’

. . . . . . . . . .

Having a caravan of the entire population of Ockerroo on his tail wasn’t what Matthieu was expecting when he weighed up his chances of an adventurous romance in the middle of the desert.
Just him, Milly and the emus out there under the twinkling stars was more along his line of thinking.

Matthieu reckoned he would have had more privacy had he stayed at home. Cooking fires were burning in all directions. Mulligan was doing a roaring trade and Clappers had constable Bent do the rounds.

‘Looks like you have covered a fair distance, Miss Centerfold. I reckon even if you didn’t move another two feet you’ll have proved a point. Hell, I am going to order one of them rigs off you as soon as we make it back home. Then I guess I will need lessons on how to hug an emu. Sergeant Clappers reckons that’s going to be the tricky bit. Some of those big fellers can be a trifle stroppy.’

‘Oh, don’t you worry about sergeant Clappers and his stroppy emus, constable. I will soon teach you all about hugging. I am a hugger from way back. My mum tells me I was born a little hugger the moment I popped out of the womb. Strangely my dad spells that with a ‘b’ instead of a ‘h’, but I prefer my mum’s version. Guess that’s why I have so much success with emus, eh?’

‘Yep, there is no denying you sure have a way with Ebony and Ivory, Miss Centerfold. I read somewhere that the running stride of an emu is better than nine feet. That’ss better than a horse, I reckon.’

‘I suppose you have heard about horse whisperers, constable? Well, history will look on little Milly Centerfold as being the world’s first emu hugger.’

. . . . . . . . . .

Word flew, and by the time the Ockerroo mob reached Burke the mayor and his entourage were atop a hastily-built dais, surrounded by the city band, the boy scouts and girl guides, all there to meet the Ockerroo adventurers.

The Country Women’s Association turned out in full force to greet Milly with a specially-engraved cowbell to mark the historic event and to announce that at the very next annual meeting, Milly Centerfold would be inducted into their country women’s hall of fame.

Not to be outdone, the mayor, on behalf of the city, announced that henceforth this day would be celebrated as the “Milly Centerfold Hug an Emu Day.”

The local state politician proved to be the drongo everyone took him to be by failing to understand Milly’s environmental message. Instead he spruked at length about how terrible it was in this day and age that outback folk relied upon such a primitive form of transport. He would immediately hold an inquiry into why the rail line stopped at Burke instead of traversing through to Ockerroo.

. . . . . . . . . .

‘Well, we made it back home again, sergeant Clappers,’ said Milly. ’I do believe Ebony and Ivory enjoyed every inch of that five hundred mile trek.

‘It seems that Matthieu has become my self-appointed agent and sales manager. He’s been flat out as a lizard drinking, taking orders and deposits for custom-made Ockerroos, and he’s building a special enclosure behind the school where he is going to conduct one-on-one classes in emu hugging. So it’s all go, go, go in this one-dunny town, sergeant.’

‘Yeah, I hear some of the fellers are getting together a group to mark out a circuit for an emu racetrack. I reckon we could be in the racing business inside six months, no risk.’

‘Well what do you know, sergeant Clappers. It might be a small step for mankind but a great stride for the humble emu, eh?’

‘Yep,’ says Clappers. ‘Not often do I sound like the party pooper, but you know, outside of Ockerroo this brilliant idea of yours, Milly, is going to do a classical centrefold like a house of cards and your truly visionary scheme will be worth two bob to nothing inside of six months.’

‘Yer gotta be joking, sarge!’

‘Nope, have another dog’s nose to ease the pain and I’ll tell you why. Hey Mulligan, another round of pain killers, then come and join us. I am about to explain to Milly Centerfold … the best bloody school teacher we ever had, no risk … I’m gonna tell Milly the facts of life.’

With that Clappers stood on top of the bar and captured the attention of entire pub. In his very best gravelly copper’s voice, reserved for special solemn occasions, he addressed the gathered drinkers.

‘Now we all agree’, said Clappers, ‘that Milly is onto something really big and has proved her point.
We have millions of emus all looking for good homes, and in next to no time the Ockerroo gig will become the recognised form of individual transport in Australia …’

‘In the whole bloody world, mate,’ interrupted Mulligan.

‘WRONG!’, says Clappers, ’and if you stop interrupting I will tell you why.

Imagine that we all buy shares in Milly’s new venture. Bloody fantastic. We are all out there busily hugging emus, bringing them up to retail standard, and the Ockerroo Gig factory is working overtime turning out lightweight gigs in ten different models, including the new family sized, four-emu-powered unit. Semitrailers are roaring back and forth, delivering Ockerroo gigs all over the country.

‘Hell, this form of individual transport is so low cost it is affordable even to the unemployed. Kids are riding Ockerroos on their way to school and back, car smashes are ancient history. Soon there’ll be two kinds of roads, one for commercial vehicles, the other for Ockerroo gigs … and we are all potential millionaires.’

‘Geez ,Clappers, so what’s wrong with that?’ yells a voice from the back.

‘Good question,’ says Clappers, ’because soon the motor car plants are shutting down, the vehicle workers union wants to know who is going to feed the unemployed, the big money in the oil companies are closing petrol stations, all the allied businesses are bankrupt, and the insurance business is not selling car insurance any more.

‘Soon the World Wildlife mob hop into the act with huge signs … "Don’t Hug an Emu – Walk or Push a Bike". Economists will warn that Australia, if not the entire world, will totter into a global monetary meltdown. Recession becomes depression … and then my friends, big money and politics unite and overnight we all forget about Milly’s golden dream to save the environment.

’The government does what only governments do best. Urgent legislation will be passed in both houses and it will be illegal to associate with an emu. A total ban is placed upon all forms of emu transportation and the emu becomes a totally protected Aussie icon. No shooting, no eating, no plucking and, most of all … no hugging.

’Emu collection centres will be established in all cities and towns, and the army will ensure all birds will be safely returned to their original environment in Ockerroo.

‘And,’ assured Clappers, ‘anyone who does not believe that scenario is away with the fairies.’

‘Oh my,’ moaned Milly. ‘Hell, Clappers, I have only been a virtual billionaire for ten minutes and you have plonked me back on poverty street.’

’Them’s the breaks when you start playing around with the environment, Milly,’ says Clappers.

‘Matthieu, poor darling, is quite shattered. He has kicked off his shoes and, as a protest, swears he will never shave again,’ says Milly. ‘But I reckon he will perk once I tell him about my new venture.’

‘Surprise me,’ says Clappers. ‘What are you going to get up to next?’

‘That, sergeant Clappers, is for me to know and for you to find out. Right now I am off to tell poor Matthieu to put his shoes back on and go have a shave.’

ENVIRONMENTAL HUGGING : An environmental tale for children of all ages

iAN Derrick

Tweed Heads, Australia

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Artist's Description

An environmental tale for children of all ages.

Milly Centerfold the new teacher at Ockerroo desires to teach her school kids and the rest of Australia a lesson in how to save the environment.
Mostly this involves up close and personal hugging of wild emus……which later transforms into a highly successful mode of individual transportation.

Sadly Milly, thanks to Clappers, is about to discover crass capitalism wins again.

Still Milly is not about to get her pink Woolies in a knot and Matthieu is about to rediscover shoes and shaving.

Artwork Comments

  • © Karin Taylor
  • iAN Derrick
  • Jakki O
  • iAN Derrick
  • umauma
  • iAN Derrick
  • Antanas
  • iAN Derrick
  • © Karin Taylor
  • iAN Derrick
  • © Karin Taylor
  • MillicentMorrow
  • iAN Derrick
  • Jeannette Sheehy
  • iAN Derrick
  • Matthew Dalton
  • iAN Derrick
  • Mark Bateman
  • iAN Derrick
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