As well as learning how to shear, I had a slight handicap to work with. The wool-classer was a mongrel-bred bastard who tried to make it as hard for me as possible by saying to Freeman that my learning to shear was interfering with my board-boys job. The only reason I could see why he was acting like this was, he fancied himself a shearer. He, himself, could shear a sheep in about 10 minutes, and by now, as long as it was a good-combing sheep, I was down to 8 minutes. Freeman was very supportive. He offered to do my job while I was learning, plus the fact that he was aware that the wool-classer had bet against me, the Victorian bastard!
Each Friday night we would all drive back to Lake Cargelligo for the weekend. The first, and only stop, was at Giltraps Hotel. I was now, very slowly, starting to be able to hold a fair amount of grog. (It goes with the territory!)
The whole team, except for the wool-classer, would party on at Giltraps. After the bar closed down we would all move into the Sow Pen where we’d play the jukebox and generally have a good time.
Jimmy Kelly, who was one of the shearers, was also an Aborigine. He lived at the Mission, about 10 miles out of town. Johnny was a pretty decent bloke, (when he was sober) but like most Aborigines that drink, he would get a bit argumentative when he was full.
Most Abos, around the Lake, did not like to work very much which meant they were always short of money for grog. Every Friday night, all of Johnnys’ relations would be trying to bum his hard-earned money from him for a flagon of cheap plonk. I used to sit and watch Johnny quite a bit. It must have been very difficult for him, ’cause he had one foot in the white fellas’ world and the other in the black fellas’ world. By then end of the evening Johnny would have given away, probably, a third of his weeks’ money. This money would only be returned months later, probably when he was out of work. Saturday morning, I used to see Johnny in town in his fairly new Ute. He and his wife and children were always clean and well-dressed. Although in my eyes he was a really good bloke, most white fellas’ still saw him as a ‘Bung’.
Since I’d been working in the sheds, I had decided to live at Giltraps Hotel, not because I didn’t like Twitcheys, but Giltraps was cheaper and a lot of the shearers used it as their watering hole. Giltraps wife was a very small lady. She was about 5’2″ and weighed about 115 pounds. She had blondish-gray hair, a very pleasant face and a good, kind nature. Besides running the domestic side of the Hotel, she also worked in the bar whenever necessary. If that wasn’t enough to keep her occupied, she had a swag of kids of various ages. Cath Giltrap was always polite and cordial with me. Whenever possible,
she would not put anyone else in the room with me. She understood and respected the fact that I was a ‘loner’.
Even though I spent a good deal of my time in the bar, sometimes, when I was short of money, I would say to her, “I’ve had a slack week Cath, d’ya mind if I pay you for the room next week?”
“That’s alright Yorky. I trust ya’ but don’t let it get too far behind.”
As soon as money came in, Cath Giltrap was the first on the list to pay.
One week, the Hotel was unusually full, so she said to me, “I’ve gotta put someone in ya’ room Yorky, in that spare bed. We’re all full up this week.”
“No worries Cath. I know you always fill up the other rooms first.”
The new bloke who lived with me for the week was a half-Abbo from Uabalong. His name was Kennedy. He was a pretty quiet, clean and polite bloke until he was on the grog. At those times, he was hopeless!
On Saturday afternoon, I came back to Giltraps. I’d been doing a bit of shopping that afternoon down the main street. The window in my room looked out onto the main street of the Lake. As I passed it, I got a funny sort of feeling. Instead of going straight to the bar for a game of pool, something pulled me to the left, down the corridor to Number 9. When I pushed open the door, the room was full of smoke! As I looked around the back of the door, where the spare bed was, Kennedy was fast asleep and snoring! Six-inch flames were dancing around the edge of the mattress and a burned-out fag was stuck to his fingers.
“Wake up ya fucking bastard!”, I roared as I shook the shit out of him. He was still as drunk as a monkey. I ran to the shower room which was at the far-end of the corridor and filled up a large bucket of cold water. When I got back to the room, he was trying to get out of bed, still in a drunken state. I heaved the bucket of cold water over him and the bed. Kennedy coughed and spluttered as he became conscious. Once he realized he was not dreaming, he jumped out of bed. It took a couple more large buckets of water to put out the fire. When Cath Gilbert found out that the bed had been charred, she was not too pleased let me tell you! Kennedy, got his marching orders and I was left, once more, in peace.
Once all of Giltraps locals found out what happened, the jokes were on me.
“G’day Yorky. I heard ya tried to barbeque a ‘bung’ this afternoon!”
“Very funny,”, I said as they cracked up in laughter.
(I have never condoned or tolerated the injustices that was & is now today still, put upon the first people!)
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