What would the old people say?

When I was a young fulla I was blessed with seemingly endless access to my grandparents; mostly my mum’s folks, but pretty much to all four grandparents if I needed or wanted to. My mum’s oldies lived right near us, and I mean RIGHT near us, not in the same house or anything crazy, but on the same property and really only a couple of hundred metres away (if that!). They were close enough for smokos, (at least two a day), big brekkies, long lunches, early dinners, sleep overs and camp ups when the rest of the family were off mustering and I was either too young, too little, too sooky, or in later years too broken to go with.

I recall those days and those old folks as though were yesterday, the house they built and lived in for decades, the crazy paint selections including pink, green and yellow on the walls and of course the conversations. The endless chats, the stories and recants of history (according to them), and of course the advice. Both my grandfathers were into politics and both the grandmothers were very much the strong ladies behind the man out front… and while as a kid I didn’t truly see it, know it and I guess respect it… now as an adult I absolutely soak that shit up and am so proud of who they were, where they came from, what they did, what they made possible for the rest of us… and for setting a standard. 

When those two old fellas passed away, both in soon succession I think I was in my twenties and was truly devastated, perhaps for one a little more than other, but only because I knew him a little better and he me… but still, I was gutted. Within a space of a few months (if memory serves me correctly), they were gone; these two giants of my world and heads of our family had come to the end of their respective journeys. I spoke at both their funerals, well not so much speak as much as recite some poetry that I’d written… To some that’s a bit out there for a young bloke from the bush, but to me it was a must, it was the most natural and also brutally painful thing I could do. I loved those men; I looked up to them like the stars in the sky and can still see them now in the darkness of my mind when I close my eyes.

All my grandparents are gone now and I guess I (we all) take one more step forward in our own journeys and along our own individual pathways… guided to some extent by the memories and the wisdom or advice imparted by those that have come before us. While I can remember very clearly my Dad’s folk’s way and appearance, how they carried themselves, presented themselves and treated one another; it’s more so mum’s folks whose words linger with me still to this day. This of course is solely because of that proximity when we all lived on the property together amongst the Mulga and the Box trees. Those days running the bore-drain with the Boss (that’s what we called mum’s dad – and by we, I mean everyone… the immediate family, the extended family, the local community and even the whole shire for that matter). The Boss was Shire Chairman for thirty odd years, ran the property and raised a good lump of a family… so yeah, I guess he was the Boss.

I remember helping Gran sweep the verandas, feed the chooks and dogs, do a spot of weeding in the garden and even cart timber supplies in for the old wood stove in the corner of the kitchen. And talk, as you may imagine muggins here as a young fulla may have been prone to chat, keen for a bit of chin wag… bit of a waffle… talk a bit! Yes indeed… but so too were the oldies and in part perhaps that’s why we got along so well and why so much of that time, those memories and even their words are now engrained in me, in my head and my heart.

When I read my poem for the Boss in front of a packed house at the town hall in Quilpie, I was struggling; my hands were shaking, my throat was dry and my face wet with tears… and even now a lump gathers in my throat and heavy heart builds within. But it was those hard times that bedded down the good times spent with those both folks… those tears were because I had had it so good, not just because those times had come to an end. That loss then and the memory of that sad feeling is soon replaced in me by the pride and joy of all that came before it, and the strength that those times, those words of gentle wisdom now provide to me.

Somewhat strangely a few years later and amidst yet another dry time (I try not to use the word ‘drought’ too often, if I can get away with it… because in some parts it’s pretty bloody dry a fair bit of the time – and that’s just the way it is). Dry or drought it was a crook time on the place and I was toiling long and hard, or at least as long and as hard as I could manage. Many and varied were the tasks and so too the demands on a young bloke’s ability… and I don’t mind sayin, that time was pretty tough on me and I dropped the ball a few times along the way. I pushed myself as much as I could and from time to time certainly felt like and even considered throwing the towel in. Each day appeared to be tougher than the previous one and so much so on occasion I struggled to get out into the paddock, or back into the house for that matter. While having a bit of a whinge about how I’d collapsed in the paddock a couple of times, my Gran volunteered to come and help me… yep, the old girl was 80 if she was day and now was my offsider on a pretty regular basis to keep me on track throughout the day.

On a semi regular basis mum would go town (once the oldies moved into town), collect her mum and come home with a port in tow for an extended stay. I’d drop by mum and dad’s place at sparrow’s fart in the morning and collect Gran, a tiny water bottle (because she didn’t believe in hydration none too much)… and off we’d go. I was on the chainsaw cutting scrub literally for years and on a few occasions fell asleep while parked at a gate or after fuelling and sharpening up for another tank full. With Gran at my side I did manage to endure and survive for a little bit longer, long enough to get a dozer back from the mechanics and go full steam again. She would open gates to make a contribution, read a Woman’s day magazine or talk to a visiting cow… and of course be there for a chat every time I returned to the ute throughout the day.

On one occasion and with me feeling particularly blue and full of complaints, Gran pulled me up. She said ‘we all have to do it tough from time to time throughout or lives’. I responded with the typical, ‘yeah but!’ Which she had absolutely no time for, saying ‘if you never do it tough, never test yourself and overcome, never know what it is like struggle… you’ll never know if you have what it takes to survive throughout a life… and if you don’t experience tougher times, how will you ever truly know what are good times?’

The vehicle settled into silence for a time and soon after I returned to the paddock, chainsaw across my shoulders and the sun beating down hard. Those words, that time and the feeling I had in my heart back then returns to me now. They had started with nothing, they had dug in, got busy, stayed busy and worked hard… and done it for the better part of a life time. They did that, in part, so that I can do this… so that I can have and do and say and be whatever, where ever and whenever I like. So I can eat and drink to my heart’s desire, have an opinion on everything and anything, load up on debt and seek out any whim, inclination or desire. I can dream or drag arse, I can get up and get going or sleep in complain over aches and pains, often self-inflicted. I can do whatever I want to do, because they did what they had to do… and the same in a way, goes for many of us.

So I think to myself, what of our children… born into a world of materialistic obsession, of social media driven judgement and seemingly endless confrontation. Is it simply a case of ‘breed ‘em tough and they’ll be fine’?… I’m not sure, I honestly don’t know how in this world you breed someone to understand a society that in a few short decades has gone for fighting for freedom and very basic rights and equality, to hardly fighting for anything at all, and valuing beauty, wealth, popularity and extravagance over pretty much everything.

When was the last time you heard someone say ‘he (or she) is as honest as a day is long’ OR ‘my word is my bond’? That’s not this world anymore…

I don’t know what we can do about it, perhaps the horse has bolted and we all just have to live with the way it is. I don’t know what to do or say to the kids about the world I remember growing up in verses the one they have, where they have wanted for nothing, struggled against anything and are in a way sensitive to everything.

Bu I do think of this… What would Gran do? What would the Boss have said or done? These are the questions that fill my mind and somehow, somewhere they will echo in my eternity… how about you?

Thanks for reading and for playing along, this is Black Rat’s Back Chat, and you’re welcome. JM ox

Categories James Blog | Tags: , , , | Posted on March 31, 2018

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