I’m Nothing Special.
I met up with an old mate in Cooktown recently. I first met him in 1961, when I was on a camping and fishing trip with my mates. We used to go camping and shooting a lot in those days. Long before it became fashionable, there were no baby boomers then to clutter up the roads with their Winnebago’s, or expensive SUV’s and tinnie strapped to the roof racks, pulling expensive caravans, and doing their best for the planet by adding their carbon output.
They have all of the comforts of home these days, satellite dishes, LED Televisions – to watch all of the popular fishing shows – as they travel around like backpackers plundering the coastal fishing grounds, camping together in big numbers, squatting on the places set aside for tired truckies to have a camp. Like soldier ants, they follow each other around the country, staying in touch via popular websites or social networking, when they reach a town with next G.
Despite popular belief, they don’t spend a lot of money, it’s all invested in their rigs, they eat mainly meagre meals; a few sausages on the barby and on to the next town, road side camp or fishing spot. Anywhere they don’t have to spend money, like in caravan parks.
When we travelled we were on our own, we just had swags, and we did not see another car after we left Mareeba. We went up for a trip of shooting and fishing. We all had guns, Browning 22 pump actions and Lithgow repeaters, they were the popular makes. They were great guns, you could buy as much ammo and as many guns as you wanted, you did not need a license. One of our mates loaned us his 16 gauge shotgun and his ex army 303 carbine. We had enough firepower to stop an elephant.
The road after Mareeba was all gravel, with countless creek crossings, corrugations that rattled every bone, and bull dust that was like talcum powder got into everything. We were travelling in an old Chevy 4 Ute and a more modern Zephyr sedan. There was a rush to ride in the Zephyr because it was smoother but the old Chevy was a good old thing. We could shoot out the window going along and it was breezy.
We saw everything on that trip. At one river crossing there was a mob of the biggest wild pigs, they were real razorbacks. One of the mates got out the 303 and bowled over 3 of them. He had not long got back from national service. 3 months he did at Wacoal, outside Brisbane. “Bang, Bang, Bang”. It was the greatest shooting I ever saw. They sure showed him how to shoot. He bowled them over from a distance of at least 200 yards and an open sight. They hit the ground, and the rest of them took off.
After the first shot, there was a great screech of cockatoos and galahs as they rose out of the trees in fright. The shots got our adrenalin really pumping and left our ears ringing for an hour after. When the shooting stopped we all went down to the creek our own 22’s at the ready in case the pigs were not dead and the others may we still be about. We all stood around in awe as we looked over the damage. The adrenalin was still pumping; 3 shots from a 303 Carbine does that too you. One wonders what it must have been like in the trenches of war. We just left them for the other pigs to eat.
Next day we reached the Annon River, it’s big and now on the list of wild rivers. It was wild then and is wild now, nothing much as changed except there is a big concrete bridge over it now. We came over a rise and there he was sitting on the single lane wooden bridge fishing.
I went up to them and introduced myself; I did not say bruz, cuz, bunjie or Unc. I just said “hello how ya goin mate”. He looked up from under his ringers hat and smiled, It was a nice friendly smile.
Old mate has worked around the Cooktown area all his life. He was a stockman worked nearby he was “riding and repairing fences” he said and was on his way back to the station. He had been camped beside the Annon for a few days doing some fishing and resting up. He had a string of horses with him, they were teathered out under the mango trees around his camp. He had his wife with him also. She was so shy, even a little bit scared of us. No wonder; we must have looked like wild men ourselves. It was not uncommon for stockmen riding fences to take they partners with them to cook and help with the fencing jobs.
We spent time yarning around a camp fire that night, he had a string of horses his missus cooked the fish and made damper for us then we hit the sack. When we got up in the morning he was gone.
The next time I saw him was in Cooktown 50 years later. He recognised me straight off. I walked into the bar of the hotel. He looked at me from a distance, got off his barstool and came over and looked at me again and said. I know you, we met a long time ago out on the Annon. I couldn’t believe it; I only know him as mate. We moved to the bar and started yarning- after 4 hours I know his whole life story and I wish I had a recorder now because I may not see old mate for a long time.
He had a lot of opinions of the local politics from the Wild Rivers, to the income management, and the future. You done a lot in your life I said, raised a family, worked hard all your life, you have paid your dues I said. You deserve a beer mate I said.
The publican had bought us a beer and you could see that they both were old mates, and had shared a few campfires and a few yarns in their day. They had a fondness for each other that you only see in the bush. I have seen it a lot in the bush and in other parts of the country. Blackfella and whitefella good mates having a beer together, color has nothing to do with mateship and if you listen to some of the black establishment, they would have you believe differently.
Blackfellas in positions of power, are more inclined to trot out the race card, at every opportunity as a means of staying in power. They cloud issues and good friendship and mateship with the whole rights movements. Both of these old mates have a different opinion of the world, and that is what makes them good mates, because they respect each other.
The whitefellas, I came to Cooktown with the first time, are still my mates today, we all raised families, sent our kids to school and university. The Whitefella I travelled to Cooktown with this time is an old mate of 25years. I guess you could say I am able to work and live in both worlds.
I am nothing special “old mate said” just an ordinary blackfella with dreams, I used to lay in my swag at night and dream of a good life for me and my family. They were nice happy dreams. I have led a good life. They will not build any monuments to me, I will be forgotten, but in one respect, I have lived a greater life as anyone else .
There is a lot more to this story. But that will have to wait until next time.