|When I think back on some of the things we had to do to earn a crust back when things were pretty tough. You often hear them called the "good old days." The only thing good about them is that there’re gone !
When you’d cut a chord of firewood just to get a feed and most times it was Gidyea, wood that any axe would bounce off and you needed a pair of wedges just to split it !
When you set possum snares to sell the skins and more often than not you didn’t waste the rest!
When to get the "dole" like today, you went where the work was or you missed out, and that could mean a trip on shank’s pony of up to fifty plus miles or more in a twelve hour day;
When you had to appear on the site, even if there wasn’t a job for you, just to get the appearance money.
When you waltzed your matilda along the well marked track and watched for the swagman’s signs on the gate post or tree, telling you whether you were wasting your time trying to get work or a free feed at some properties on the track.
You travelled light, with just a blanket and a change of old clothes, a flour bag, a billy, a pannikin or quartpot and whatever food you could scrounge. Some tracks, especially after a good wet would have wild sweet potatoes or yams growing along the creek banks and many a damper was flavoured with wild passionfruit or gerkin.
You didn’t enjoy living hand to mouth but you didn’t complain because you had no one to complain to most times. You had a big problem if you started to talk to your matilda and an even bigger one if she talked back!
In summer you walked at night and found the first bit of shade by sunup the next morning and preferably near a billabong or creek.
In winter you built three fires and slept between and as close to them without actually setting fire to yourself.
You got wet when it rained and you froze in the cold. But you survived. You had to.
You got to know every cook on every station and when the boss and the ringers were out working.
You knew where every chook house was so you could relieve a hen or two of an egg or three without making a sound.
You soon learnt not to take all the eggs so as not to make the cockies wife suspicious. The same applied to fruit trees. You only took what you could carry and eat within a few days or it went bad and you couldn’t eat it anyway.
You soon learnt to throw a stone with a certain amount of accuracy as pigeon cooked on the coals was a delicacy. And don’t knock goanna or snake. The problem is catching the buggers.
If you came across a waterhole or river and you had a piece of fishing line and a hook then you stayed until you couldn’t look at another yellow-belly or sooty grunter.
You became very efficient at catching grasshoppers and soon learnt where to find witchetty grubs for bait.
Your boots were always a problem. You never wasted any fat. That was rubbed in to keep them soft and pliable. You stuffed bark or old newspaper if you had any, into your boots when the sole wore out, and wire laces were the in thing. Boot laces were to useful to waste on boots.
I often wonder how the younguns of today would survive without all the modcons.
How would they cope out on the track, humping a bluey, living off the land, having to walk everywhere and sleep on the ground ?
I sincerely hope they never have to find out.