Ida Downs was a formidable woman who wished to cover all extremities when it came to warming the hearts and souls of her fellow Ockerroo citizens.

Standing centre stage, Ida dominated the ambience by glaring down at her captive audience, a miserable crowd of ten surreptitiously squirming while uncomfortably seated within the town’s School of Arts Hall.

‘Gawd,’ whispered Clappers to Milly Centerfold. ‘Why does Ida have to pick the flaming School of Arts instead of Mulligan’s to hold these meetings? At least in the pub she’d have a bigger attendance.’

’It’s rumoured,’ said Milly, ‘that Mulligan pays for the hire of the hall, so Ida, who is down on her uppers, doesn’t invade his pub and ruin the evening trade.’

‘Good evening,’ boomed Ida … and a myriad of flies immediately swarmed to seek greater safety outside. ‘I have assembled you here this evening to discuss a most serious civic matter, a question of life and DEATH.’ That last word being hammered past the tonsils with extra vigor and enunciation.

‘Ockerroo, as you well know, is a town without medical assistance. Should any of our citizens become injured or ill the nearest hospital is two hundred and fifty miles east, a long way to travel when you are dying, eh sergeant Clarke?’

‘Me?!’ said Clappers, pointing at his chest. ‘Why pick on me, Ida? I represent the Law, not the Department of Health.’

‘You found a poor fellow out in the flats two weeks ago, dying of thirst I believe. What did he have to say for himself?’

‘Not much … just asked if I had a cold beer with me and when I said no he up and quietly died, rest his soul.’

To which the whole room then replied, ‘Yeah, rest his soul.’

‘Did he have a smile on his face?’ piped up Peggy Winslow. ‘My mum always said that when it comes to dying you should go out smiling.’

The roar that came from centre stage soon brought the assembly back to immediate attention. ‘I am going to propose that the unemployed citizens of this town be immediately utilised in the construction of an airstrip to meet the requirements of the Flying Doctor Service … and you will second that proposal, Peggy Winslow.’

‘Yes, Mrs Downs. I second we build an airstrip.’

‘Not “WE”, Peggy Winslow. It is them, the unemployed dole bludgers who clutter up our streets …’

‘We only have one street,’ corrected Marvinnius Blight.’

‘Hands up all who agree?’ boomed Ida, quite ignoring the correction regarding Ockerroo’s layout.

‘Do we have a quorum?’ questioned Christopher Conscience.

With a fearsome glare, she focussed her attention on the now-squirming Marvinnius and Christopher. ‘We only require a quorum of three, and I believe both of you represent the Enlightened Brotherhood of Dedicated Dole Bludgers Union, which according to my rules gives you a conflict of interest.’ Her voice now rose several octaves …

‘You are excused !’

There was something that indicated terminal retribution in those three words. Marvinnius and Christopher meekly departed to report back to the union members currently decorating Mulligan’s pub.

Several nights later, while helping with the removal of dust from Mulligan’s seating arrangements, Milly Centerfold swirled the suspended matter inside her dog’s nose, reflected on her choice of words, then told sergeant Clappers, ‘She has a point, you know.’

‘Who has a point, Milly?’ asked Clappers.

‘Ida Downs. We are totally skint when it comes to anything medical in Ockerroo. I reckon it might be well worthwhile to have a small airstrip for emergency use.’

‘Nah, we crossed that one off the list years back. The first big problem is the cost of building a whacking great fence to stop four million stupid emus from thinking it is their turf. The second problem is that we don’t have the workforce.’

‘Fair go, Clappers, most of the blokes in this town are on the dole.’

‘Yep, and they wish to stay that way. Try giving them a job and they will turn feral, popping their heads up every two weeks to collect their dole cheques.’

‘Well,’ says Milly, ‘the land is already flatter than my bank account. Mark out an area and I could have the kids rake away all the gibbers as a school project inside a couple of months. Shove up a windsock and night landing lights, and we are in business.’

‘You forget about the fence,’ says Clappers. ‘It would cost a bloody fortune and I sure can’t see the government paying for something that might be used just once every fifty years. They will say, “You want it mate, you pay for it”.’

‘Not if it was a solar-powered electric fence,’ says a smug Miss Milly. ‘And in case you did not notice, sergeant Clappers, my glass is empty.’


‘Yep, very inexpensive, highly efficient. Saw a demo in Sydney before I came up here. You know, Clappers, apart from emus, dust and flies, the greatest commodity we have for free is space and sunshine. The solar cells sit up on a pole and charge the batteries at ground level, which in turn electrify the fence. Along trots a lonely emu, touches the wire and, whamo!’

‘We can’t go around electrocuting emus.’

‘We don’t kill ‘em, Clappers. Didn’t you ever cop six cuts at school?’ Then, without waiting for an answer, ‘The fence to an emu is like receiving six of the best. Believe me, they’ll soon understand the walkabout rules.’

During the following weeks not much more was said about airstrips and electric fences. Conversations drifted into the desirability of sending constable Bent to Burke for an upgraded St John’s first aid course. Meanwhile, Clappers handed him the station’s seriously outdated handbook and advised his constable to bone up on the subject of saving lives, with special reference to dying of thirst and air crashes.


Nothing brightens up a copper’s day more than when a damsel in distress dashes into his arms requesting urgent assistance. In this case the damsel was the delightful Miss Milly Centerfold, breathlessly gasping, ‘Come quickly, Clappers, Matthieu is in terrible pain. He was rolling around like a cut snake until I asked Ida Downs to sit on him while I fetched help.’

’What’s wrong with him?’ asked Clappers as they raced to the rescue.

‘Matthieu says he was stung in the toes. Poor boy says he is dying. We had a little domestic this morning and he threw away his shoes. I believe it’s his unconventional way of saying he loves me.’

‘I am dying, Clappers,’ says Matthieu, quite unable to squirm because all eighteen stone of Ida Downs has immobilised his legs. ‘A bloody great bee has stung me between the big and second toe. Tell me I am not going to die, Milly.’

‘My old gran always said you had to suck the poison out,’ offered Ida.

‘Look,’ says Milly, ’Matthieu’s toes are indeed swollen. How cute, the big toe is quite hairy, looks like a little old man with a beard.’

‘Are you not supposed to be sucking out the poison, Milly?’

‘Oh gracious me no, sergeant Clappers, I really am not into toe sucking, I am not that kind of girl.’

‘I am dying, Milly,’ moaned Matthieu.

‘Of course you are, darling, but never mind, we are all here to comfort you. I do love you Matthieu so please promise me that in the final moment you will remember to go with a smile on your dial … it will mean so much to me, Matthieu.’

‘According to the station’s first aid book,’ says constable Bent, ’ poison sucking and spitting is for snake bites. The advice for bee stings is to apply ice and remove the barb.’

’That’s it, then,’ says Clappers, ‘problem solved. Let’s move him over to Mulligan’s ice machine and shove his foot in a bucket of the stuff.’

‘I am dying,’ moans Matthieu.

‘Of course you are, darling,’ says sweet Milly. ‘But you will be ever so much better once we freeze your foot and the nice Mr Mulligan brings his pliers to yank out the barb.’

‘Constable Bent, does it mention in the book that the victim should be given a stiff drink?’ moaned Matthieu.

‘I think it does,’ says Clappers. ‘In fact I am bloody sure it does. How about it, Mulligan? Are you going to shout for the heroes and the nearly dead?’

‘You could have taken him to the butchers,’ complained Mulligan. ‘They also have an ice machine, you know.’

‘Yeah, but butchers are right into amputations and I reckon Matthieu wishes to keep all his toes.’

‘I am dying … for a drink,’ moaned Matthieu.


Some weeks had passed. Ockerroo slept through whatever was happening in the outside world. Apart from emu chicks, nothing had been born into or parted from this unique fly spot on the map of New South Wales.

‘I see, Milly, that Matthieu is back to wearing shoes and shaving,’ said Clappers.

‘Yes, the sweet boy is almost fully domesticated and back to being a normal specimen of humanity, except of course for the limp. It was Ida who twisted his kneecap when she crashed down on top of him to save his life from the bee sting. I rub it every morning and night with emu fat. I believe emu fats and oils for medicinal purposes is a rapidly growing industry … perhaps we could start our own processing plant.’

‘I thought you were the born-again hugging best friend of the emu?’

‘Oh I am, I am, sergeant Clappers. Why, Ebony and Ivory are like my own sweet children. It’s not that I don’t love their brothers and sisters, I just happen to love anti-poverty even more.’

‘I heard the word “poverty”. Does that mean you are discussing me?’ enquired a limping Matthieu, arriving in the fond hope of bumming a free drink.

‘Not exactly,’ said Clappers. ‘Milly has been telling me about her new venture for Ockerroo to build a dirty big slaughter house and processing plant for emus. Seems there is a fortune to be made out of meat, fats, oils, feathers, skins, eggs … in fact, every bit of the emu except the drumming noise, and even that is under Centerfold consideration for being recorded for a rock group she knows in Sydney. Yer never know, by this time next year we could make the top ten in the charts.’

‘I am dying,’ said Matthieu.

‘Of thirst or bee stings?’ questioned Clappers.

‘Oh for crying out loud, Clappers,’ moaned Milly. ‘Buy the poor bloke a beer before we have a funeral. And speaking of funerals, I haven’t come across a cemetery in this town. What do you do with the dead when they have finished dying?’

‘Well,’ said Clappers. ‘should the dead be smiling because they have a cashed-up next of kin, we pop ’em into Mulligan’s refrigerated van then ship ‘em off to Burke. It would be a great little earner for Mulligan except folks around here seem unwilling to kark it just to increase the publican’s financial portfolio. They reckon, what with the pub, his state of liquidity is rock solid.’

’Wouldn’t rock solid liquidity add up to frozen assets?’ asked Matthieu, whose question was ignored on the grounds that Milly had something more important to say.

‘Tell me, Clappers, what happens to all the dead folk who don’t have cashed-up relatives?’

‘Ah, I thought you might ask that question, Miss Milly. Seeing as the flats around Ockerroo are harder than stainless steel, the short answer is we provide a simple and dignified disposal under what is now called The Tibetan System.’

‘And the long answer, sergeant Clappers?’

‘We cart ’em some eighty mile due west of where you are sitting and they have a most enlightening and consuming silent conversation with the crows.’

‘Oh how terrible, is that civilized?’

‘No-one has ever come back to complain,’ said Clappers.

‘Do you mean that if poor sweet Matthieu had succumbed to his bee poison the other day, then he would now be up close and personal with a murder of crows with the odd wedgetail to speed up the process? … rest his soul.’

To which everyone in the pub said, ‘Yeah, rest his soul.’

‘Why would you worry, Milly? I seem to recall you weren’t willing to give Matthieu’s toes the suck of life.’

‘True, very true, sergeant Clappers, but an educated lady has to draw the line sometimes to protect her standing within the community. What would your wife have done in similar circumstances?’

‘Struth, Milly. First thing Sal would have done is grab the tomato sauce bottle, then she would be working on them toes like a giant suction machine until she was certain there was no more deadly poison in me system.’

‘What gives with the tomato sauce?’ asked a puzzled Matthieu.

‘Hell, that’s Sal’s favourite condiment … Sal has tomato sauce on everything, providing of course it is not her speciality of baked fresh goanna layered in ginger, chilli and garlic, and smothered in hot sesame oil and thin soy sauce.’

‘Well, in defence of Milly,’ said Matthieu, ‘this morning when I walked into the kitchen, an urgent voice shouted “Stop!” and I figured it must be your deadly taipan, Oscar, out for his morning exercise. I just froze on the spot, with one foot lifted off the floor.’

‘And was it Oscar ?’ asked Clappers.

‘Nah, it was just a family of ants moving a bread crumb back home for a feed.’

‘Ants?’ says Clappers.

‘Yeah, well, it just shows what a lovely caring person Milly really is.
Milly soft-Centre-fold is what I call her. Big hearted, sweet, tasty and squishy.’

‘Seems to me,’ said Clappers, ‘that same, sweet, caring, squishy lady is bent on establishing a slaughteryard and processing plant for emus. Milly claims she has an earnest desire to fend off poverty.’


Ida Downs was a woman who could smother you with love, but her voice and manner protected her from anyone harbouring romantic intentions.

Her heavy bootsteps announced her arrival. ‘Any news for me?’ It was more of a demand than a friendly question.

‘Oh yes,’ piped up Milly. ‘By the end of the week my children and Matthieu will have cleared all the gibbers from the airstrip. Down at the far end, the sweet children have used the larger rocks to spell out a huge sign that reads OCKERROO, and next week, for the benefit of the pilot seeking the correct location, they will be painting the rocks with what my granny called Rinso white.’

Milly paused at this juncture to receive the applause that failed to arrive.

‘Then sometime during the following week, the solar tower complete with batteries and electrified fence should be delivered … oh yes, and the windsock should be part of the same consignment.’

‘What about the lights for night landings?’ burped Ida, who must have been so relieved when it all sought freedom in the one package.

’Can’t afford lights,’ said Milly. ‘Clappers reckons we could light flares. You can buy ’em real cheap from army disposals.’

‘And what happens when it’s raining?’ Seeing it had not rained in the past sixty-three years the question died while drifting through to the keeper.

‘Very good, very good,’ repeated Ida. ‘Now all we need is for someone to start dying so we may ring up the Flying Doctor Service.’

‘Yeah, any volunteers?’ asked Clappers. ‘What, no-one willing to die for a good cause?’

‘Speaking of dying,’ says Milly, ‘I almost forgot to tell Ida about my new venture.’

‘And pray what happened to the intra-city emu taxi service, or this something additional?’

‘You could say, Ida, it is a subsidiary to the taxi service, only this venture will be called The Pink Lady Dignified Carrion Funeral Service. ’You could sign up with a generous discounted promotional offer to be our foundation member, Ida. Sister Milly and Brother Matthieu would officiate at your funeral to ensure you were truly blessed, and we would personally guarantee that when you have been prepared for final disposal, a flock of angels, disguised as avian emissaries, would descend from above to transport your soul, bit by bit, to heavenly greener pastures.’

‘Can I have songs at this funeral?’

‘Of course, anything your little heart desires, Ida.’

‘Can I have Rolf Harris singing Tie Me Kangaroo Down Sport?’ asked a seriously weeping Ida.

‘Complete with backing choir, if that is what Ida wishes.’

‘I particularly like the verse that went … "Let me emus go loose, Lou, let me emus go loose. They’re of no further use, Lou, so let me emus go loose.” I think that is most fitting don’t you, Milly?’

‘Absolutely, no mucking about. Bloody perfect, Ida. Look, you’re not dead yet, so stop weeping … you are diluting your beer.’

‘And does this new venture mean you are going to buy a hearse, Milly?’

‘Aw hell no, Ida. I have just this moment in time been inspired to have Brother Matthieu construct the most fantastic Ockerroo special, eight-emu-powered body transporter, built along the lines of a lightweight gun carriage and smothered in plastic flowers like I once saw in an Indian Ashram, complete with clouds of sweet burning incense. Oh it will be bloody beautiful Ida.’


And so it came to pass that the entire population of Ockerroo gathered to celebrate their very own emergency airstrip which — except for a huge sign made out of super white rocks, a windsock and a solar fence — looked exactly like the rest of the landscape as far as the eye could see, and beyond.

It didn’t take more than ten minutes for Stumpy Morrison, the town idiot, to discover that, yes, solar powered electric fences really do work.

The major problem for Ockerroo revolved around a mind set. They had a real beaut air strip, but nary a sign of a plane.

The citizens had been warned that, in this time of credit restrictions, a visit from the Flying Doctor Service could only be justified by a near death experience. A couple of broken legs and an arm did not count.

‘Take a pack of painkillers, mate, lie in the back of a ute, and enjoy the drive to Burke.’

The citizens took to abandoning the traditional greeting of ’G’day mate, ‘owyergoin’?‘, beaut day ain’t it?’ The common greeting these days was along the lines of ‘Cripes you look terrible crook, mate! Is the old ticker playing up?’

Should that not deliver the desired response, there was always the follow up … ‘Hey, come and check Bert out. The poor bugger doesn’t look too flash to me.’

A new form of psychological warfare had broken out within the small community.


Eventually, except for five hundred emus who became decidedly pissed off with the shocking state of affairs, the novelty of an air strip uncontaminated by aircraft wore off.

Little Ockerroo returned to its unique form of insane normality.

One bright spark suggested, seeing it was cleared of gibbers, they turn it into a cricket pitch … dole bludgers versus the rest.

‘You know they can kill you, Clappers.’ says Matthieu.

‘Oh yeah, what can kill you?’

‘Bee stings.’


iAN Derrick

Tweed Heads, Australia

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Artist's Description

Ida Downs has arrived at the conclusion that Ockerroo desperately requires the services of the Flying Doctor Service….Needs the dole bludgers to build the air strip.
The Bent copper is sent on a crash First Aid course.
Milly has secondary thoughts about Emus.
Matthieu reckons he is dying….and earnest discussion about funeral arrangements for Ida are deemed to be desirable.
And does Sal really pig out on Tomato sauce?

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