Monday, July 03, 2006

Uncle Crooked

Yes, some of you have traced my family tree, and its true, my uncle is the famous "Crooked Mick of the Speewah". For the benefit of our Overseas readers, the Speewah is the biggest cattle and sheep Station in Australia. It lies out west of the sunset, and is so big that the men who repair the boundary fences take their wives with them, raise their kids along the way and retire about midway; their sons finish the second half of the job and arrive back at the Homestead to their own retirement, with their own sons ready to start out again.

The trees are so big on the Speewah that the tops are hinged to let the sun past, and it gets so hot there that freezing point is set at 99 degrees. At dusk, the temperature drops so quickly even the mirages freeze over. On the east side of the Speewah it can be so swelteringly hot that drovers need to wear an asbestos suit; the crows fly backwards to keep the dust out of their eyes, and the dust storms are so thick that you can build a house on them. Folk on that side of the Speewah count themselves lucky when they can start putting water in their tea again. On the west side its so cold that the horses have to be defrosted before you can put their saddles on, and words freeze as they come out of your mouth, so your mate has to pick them up and thaw them on the campfire before he can hear what you said.

My uncle, Crooked Mick, is a giant of a man who was born way back when the Jenolan Caves were just wombat holes and the River Murray was a possum having a pee. He's so big he has to go outside whenever he wants to turn around, eats two sheep for lunch and uses small trees for toothpicks. At birth he started growing so fast his father tried to slow his growth by ring-barking his legs; it didn't work but it did give him a nasty limp, hence his name. Mick is a helluva shearer and works so hard and fast that he keeps a rouseabout busy putting ice cubes in a bucket Mick uses to cool down the shears. One morning the boss told him to hop over and help the Cook; Mick had shorn another thirty-two sheep before his shears touched the floor. Another time, a crow was bothering him by blocking out the sun so he picked up a rock and threw it at the mongrel; the local aborigines complained and told him to put Uluru back where it was. Mick's best mate is Big Bill, the guy who made his fortune on the Broken Hill goldfields cutting up mining shafts and selling them as post holes.

Of course it's not only the men who are big on the Speewah. The mosquitoes have been known to blow out a station hand's candle in the evening while he's reading in his bunk, so they can get started on their bloodthirsty work, and they often steal the blankets to wipe their noses after a feast. There are the giant wombats, rabbits as large as sheep, crows like condors and kangaroos so big they make an emu look like a canary. And there's the famous hoop snake, which grabs its own tail in its mouth, leaps up and rolls after men on horseback. He needs a good horse to outrun one.

Such is life in the great Australian Outback. If any of you are interested, I might tell you how Crooked Mick built the railroad, or about the Great Speewah Flood. Post a comment if you want to hear more.

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