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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Dad, the bung and the oranges 1

Late morning it would have been, on a January day, just as the sun was getting a fair amount of bite into it. It was one of those Queensland summers following a spring where the storms had failed, and the ground at Sunny Hills was parched.

   With no pasture, dairy cows don't do so well. The milk vat doesn't either, and we had a quota to maintain.

   The solution was to have salt-lick for the milkers and a dollop of molasses in their feed, so that they'd drink plenty of good clean water pumped up from the well and have a go at eating as much of the dry spear-grass as they could find – which wasn't much.

   But you don't want to know about that. All you need to know is that Dad was opening the 44 gallon drum of molasses that had been sitting undisturbed under the shade of the Leaning-Tower-of-Pisa ironbark near the old dairy.

   Well, it had been in the shade, but the summer sun moves – the angle I mean – and the big molasses drum had been sitting in the sun all morning. Dad couldn't even touch the lid it was so hot.

   Any 44 gallon drum has two outlets, each with a steel bung screwed into it. The smaller one is about the diameter of a golf ball. Given that most drums are designed to hold liquids that vapourise with heat, the bungs are very sturdy. If you're smart, you open the little bung first to release gently any internal gas pressure, and then the other one to pour the contents out.

   There was a tool to open the bungs, because they don't come out all that easy – like a large hex-type screwdriver or spanner. Dad inserted it in the smaller bung and gave it a twist. It didn't want to come out so he tapped it a bit and tried again. This time it groaned audibly (can you or a bung groan inaudibly? I dunno. Nor do I care if it comes to that.) But at least it did yield a half-turn.

   These days you would have got a can of CRC30 or RP7, sprayed the visible thread on the bung, let it sink in a bit, and tried again – but we didn't have sissy stuff like that in the 1950s. Dad put his considerable strength behind the spanner and turned it a few more times. There was no hissing of released gas either, and everyone knows, as you do I'm sure, that molasses builds up one hell of a lot of pressure when the drum stands out in the fiery sun of central Queensland all morning.

   Uttering a few magic words, as was his wont when things didn't go to plan, Dad gave it a last turn, then removed the spanner and leaned in for a closer look.

   That of course was exactly when the bung could take the pent-up pressure no longer. There was a strange sort of explosive bang-hiss that we heard from the house some fifty metres away, followed by a second mysterious but sharper clang nearby.

   We witnessed the scene of Dad standing there, hanging on to the drum with his knees quaking, his hat about three metres behind him. Then he tottered up to the house, hat in hand, his face white as a sheet in spite of the beads of sweat on his brow.

   At least he still had a brow – both of them, in fact. The heavy bung had missed his forehead by a centimetre on its upward path, taking his hat with it, and been blown sky-high. Had he leaned over the drum a fraction more, his skull would have been cracked open like a walnut.

   The second clang, long after it had blown, was the sound of the bung landing on the hayshed roof just twenty metres from the house. We had all heard it, many seconds after it had attempted to take Dad's head off.

   His hat, you will be relieved to know, sustained only superficial injuries, but sufficient to remind him every subsequent day of his life that the Reaper sports a steel bung as well as a scythe.

   After narrating in some detail the sequence of events above, a story punctured by many more magic words, Dad took an early rest. 

   Little did he know that his trials that day were not quite over. And who was the cause of it?

   I'm not telling. You'll have to wait. I know damn well that your attention span is limited to 700 words. Besides, I've yet to finish it – but there's no way in the wide world you can guess what it is, so don't bother trying. 

   You might have a fair crack at the "who" though. Mayer kulper and all that.


bung and oranges 1 | bung and oranges 2

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