The WHAT'S NEW! page contains the latest medical updates. If you're wondering how I'm going as far as health is concerned, this is the place to start. Latest: Wed 27 Nov 2013. 7.20AM

Friday, March 16, 2012

Four bob well spent (1)

As I've said before, in the early days, we would sell only cream to the butter factory. That was before they got on to the idea (a bit slowly, I reckon) that producing whole milk and selling it in bottles to the townies was a licence to print pound notes. The milkmen who sold whole milk to people with billies in hand would have to adapt to delivering pint bottles.

We didn't have a car then and Dad used to put the few cans of our hard-won pure cream into the back of the sulkey, hitch up the half-draught horse and trot down to the depot with it. It took a while, even though it was only a couple of miles at most, so he usually did it alone, even stopping on rare occasions to have a beer before the trip back.

Occasionally though, I'd jump in the sulkey with him and go along for the ride. There was always a chance he might have a beer, in which case I'd score a lemonade in a seven ounce glass. And I always got to drive the sulkey up the final hill home. There's something about the sense of power slapping the reins on the old horse's back to make her move that you only get with driving a Formula 1 racing car.

I imagine so, anyway. I've never done the latter, but I'll bet the number of Formula 1 racing drivers who've driven a horse and sulkey are few and far between, so suck eggs, whoever.... Sebastian Vettel.... (Thanks, Google. The last Champion I could remember was Niki Lauda. And that was 1977.)

I wish I had a picture for you of the horse and sulkey ready to go, but you'd be surprised how few iPhones there were around in the 1950s to take a quick snap. All we had was the Box Brownie. Everyone had one.

In a way, you know, in order to frame your shot, a Box Brownie had something a bit like an LCD screen, but about the size of a postage stamp. You'd peer down at this tiny image of what you were aiming at and hit the button, and hope for the best. More often than not, you got a good shot of your subject's decapitated body and a broad expanse of grass in front, all in glorious black and white.

You weren't too free with your shots though, because they weren't free. A roll of film had to go off to town to the chemist's, you'd wait about a week, and back your expensive shots would come. Often terrible.

Anyway, I don't have a picture of our horse and sulkey on the starting grid. I do have one of half the sulkey you can see indistinctly in the background, a milk bucket tastefully placed in front of the wheel for effect, three gorgeous kids carefully posed on the steps of our mansion, and all four of the dog's legs thoughtfully captured on the steps at the top of the picture, to provide aesthetic balance.

That could be an award-winning shot, really. Pity about the crooked grin and the shifty eyes of the brat in the middle....

Dad and I had barely got to the depot when one of those idiotic little Chihuahua-type mutts that our cattledogs would have eviscerated with one snap of the jaws came racing out of Mylne's yard, yapping furiously and trying desperately hard to get trampled to death under the horse's hooves, each of which were as big as the 'dog' itself.

I'm sorry if you have a dear little Chow or a Pomeranian, but when you've lived with cattledogs that aren't afraid of going for a wild boar, you don't credit toy yappie things with the 'dog' title.

Come to think of it though, going for a draught horse when the attacker's the size of an egg carton is kind of brave.... No, let's be realistic. It was just plain bloody stupid.

But the Chi Pom-pom upset old Junie greatly. Maybe she thought it was a gigantic March Fly. Though Junie hadn't lifted her hooves more than six inches off the ground even one at a time in the previous eight years or so, she snorted and reared and whinnied like those stallions in the old movies do – the ones they hit with a high voltage cattle prod for the sake of the movie action.

You didn't know that? Then you haven't the foggiest what they put horses through in movies to get the effect they want.

They should have had the cameras on Junie. At the very least it would win an award on Funniest Home Videos, a show the only purpose of which is to demonstrate how many different ways candidates for the Darwin Awards try to fulfill their death wish by hurting themselves (often very unoriginally, I might add. At least this thing that was a cross between some genetic mutation from Mexico and an equally freakish Chinese masterpiece of inbreeding had the virtue of novelty for its desired manner of death.)

Junie reared and screwed round in the shafts of the sulkey. The idiot dog-like thing took off, totally unharmed but protesting volubly, as if its freedom of speech, both Mayan and Cantonese, had been grossly violated. Still miraculously all in one misbegotten piece, it disappeared under the stock shed at the back of the store.

Uninjured was more than what I can say for the sulkey. There was a distinct snapping sound as Junie reared, followed by a splintering groan of one of the shafts. Junie suffered no injury, I hasten to add. But our noble chariot now looked a bit sad.

I've a feeling you have never tried to drive a sulkey without its full complement of shafts. Neither had we. It almost certainly doesn't work, unless you want to go round in circles infinitely, and few people do want to, however much they succeed in other ways to master that skill.

You don't usually need to pack a toolbox in a sulkey as you would in a car, so Dad faced a dilemma. How, with no tools, do you patch up a broken sulkey shaft?

It was solved when old Cam Lowes came along in his Ford ute. He had a brace and bit for drilling holes in timber, and No 8 wire.

Everybody in the country always carried a length of No 8 wire in the back of their truck. They probably still do. It's a well-known fact that there wasn't a thing that couldn't be fixed, on a temporary basis at least, with that sturdy gauged wire, though it was an utter bitch to bend without a good pair of fencing pliers. Even then you had to use every ounce of strength you had in your best arm.

Cam was a farmer and good handyman. He had connected the pipes for us from the windmill up to the dairy, thus giving us the incalculable blessing of as much water as we needed at the cowshed, instead of years having to bucket it from the Old Kitchen in dry weather. The latter had increased all our muscular girths by a considerable amount, but it was surely a tedious task.

He took one look at the problem, figured out a solution and within half and hour the shaft was firmly secured. It wasn't pretty, but it would easily get us home.

In fact it stayed like that and kept the sulkey in service for several days until Dad got a splint made out of angle iron for the shaft, and it was all neatly bolted in place.

Dad, of course, made a gesture of payment to Cam. All he had was four shillings in his pocket.

'Here, take this.'

'No, don't be bloody silly now – it was nothing.'

'Take it anyway,' said Dad, throwing it into Cam's battered old toolbox. 'Have a beer.'

Cam carefully picked the two two-shilling pieces out of the box.

'Here, lad.' He put them in my hand, knowing my father would never take them back personally from him. 'You take these, and you do something good with them.'

I was only seven or so, and didn't have the grace or experience to refuse. Besides, it was a fortune to me, and you don't look a gift horse in the mouth, do you? In this case, the gift horse was Junie, standing there rather sullenly all ready to go, probably thinking she'd escaped dragging us home when she was unharnessed for the sulkey repairs.

In fact, the whole ritual was bound to end in some way like this. Dad would have offered something, Cam would never have accepted it, and it would have ended up in my pocket anyway. Luckily for me, it was four whole shillings.

But what would I do with it? Something good.... yes, I knew exactly what I was going to do with it, and I could hardly wait to take my fortune to Gladstone the next Saturday, and do this good thing.

You know, come to think of it, yappy little doggies do have their place in the order of the universe, don't they? Without that particular one, I would never have got the chance at fulfilling a dream I had nurtured for many moons in my bosom manly seven-year-old chest.

And you're going to have to wait, because I've just had a follow-up cursed seizure, less than 24 hours after what I hoped was the main event for the month. Permission to swear volubly.


  1. Wonderful. Just what did you spend your four shillings on? Looking forward to finding out. I'm also doubtful about whether schnookie-poo dogs deserve to be called dogs. And it's true, No. 8 wire was the go & still is in many parts. The new No. 8 wire is gaffer tape - not as hardy but solves most urban problems.

    1. Ah - still a Scheherazade-type secret till I crank up the energy for the final part, but thanks for the comment. Little dogs aren't all bad.... some are very cute, but you must allow me a little dramatic licence now and again. :) Talking about dogs and sheds always reminds me of the Henry Lawson classic, the Loaded Dog - do you know that one?

      I'll go with the gaffer tape over No 8 wire. It's one of the limited number of things that indicate society has made some progress.


Some iPads simply refuse to post responses. I have no idea why, but be aware of this.
Word verification has been enabled because of an avalanche of spam. SAVE or compose a long comment elsewhere before posting; don’t lose it! View in Preview mode first before trying to post.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.