Writing

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‘Moke Daddy, ‘Moke!

By Tony Sevil

504 words

      I am never quite sure about the accuracy of childhood memories. How much we might embellish the experiences when looking back as an adult. Or indeed how much we might block out memories that might have frightened us.

Aged 69 it is hard to recall accurately how old I was when certain events occurred but sometimes other events of the time can help to place the memory.

It was a grass fire on the family property on the NW plains. It seemed to be very close and I watched the flames from the verandah feeling very frightened. I couldn’t watch all the time. I ran into my mother and clasped my arms around her knee and buried my head in her dress.

The fire seemed to be heading towards the house. There was a strong smell of smoke in the air. The dogs were barking, their chains rattling against their tin kennels I could see the flames leaping high and the fire seemed to be getting even closer. I strained to see the men fighting the fire.

I could see my fathers new 1948 Land Rover driving to the head of the fire. I thought the fire would burn him. I thought it would burn our house. I raced back inside to my mother again. Crying now. “Its alright Jimmy, its alright. The men will put it out soon”. My mother felt tense.

The wooden flyscreen door creaked and some men came in, tipped their hats to my mother, put their hats beside their chairs. Their clothes were ash dirty and they smelled of smoke. They hunched over the table and ate the sandwiches my mother made them, and sipped on cups of black tea. They were big men. They had big brown veiny hands.

They spoke in a slow drawl, words I didn’t understand.

“Need more wet bags… Billy’s got it covered on the north…Die down on dark….. A big, kind dirty face looked down at me “And what’s ya name young fulla” “Jimmy’ I replied, dropping my head “And do you help ya Mum out”. I nodded not knowing what he meant.

They slowly got to their feet, picked up their hats, tipped their hats to my mother and thanked her. They went out through the gauze door still mumbling. “We should have her tonight”, “Could’ve broken out to Hassel’s but the wind seems to be easin’ now, and more from the east.”

The men got the fire out that night.

For days my father went around and through where the fire had been, checking for logs that might have still been burning. He took me one day. Everything was black where the fire had been.

According to my mother, weeks after that fire I would go onto the verandah and look out over the plain, see what I thought was smoke, hurry to find my father and tugging on his trousers urgently, say, “ ’Moke Daddy, ‘moke! ”

I still find a bushfire a frightening, unpredictable force. I never underestimate that force. © Tony Sevil 2014


 

The Woman on the  Troopie

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I agonised over a decision to go on an art camp in Central Australia. There was the cost, there was my insecurity about my art, and I often felt uncomfortable in group events.

There would be seven women and me. Living on a cold grey granite tableland in NSW, the thought of a week in a warm, red and beautiful gorge in the NT to indulge in art finally tipped the scales. I also think I needed to push myself to make contact with like-minded others, especially as I had been feeling very sad since the death of my younger son from cancer, aged 30, some three years previously.

I knew one of the women, Helen, from an earlier time. She was a talented artist who used unusual colour combinations in ways that worked. Like me she was divorced and she lived alone, in Tassie. I had been divorced twice. So I was very hesitant about relationships. In fact, aged 68, I had virtually settled on the fact that I would be alone for the rest of my life. Not necessarily an unpleasant situation. I had my found object art which I had been exhibiting for a number of years. I also loved photography and writing.

I found a window seat on the Troopie (an extended Landcruiser) going to the camp. The last person to get on the bus had to sit next to me, the only seat left. “Sorry about that” I said. “It’s not your day”. She chuckled. We made easy small talk on the 4-hour trip to the campsite. She was an ex-Kiwi, as was Helen who had sat up the back of the bus. I introduced them by saying “Hey Helen, this girl talks like you”. They swapped notes.

I loved the week. I made friends who I now regularly keep in contact with. On the first day of the camp I learned it was one of the women’s birthday so I made her a rock cake. A rock the shape and size of my Mum’s fruitcakes. I used banksia seed cases to make her name and candles. I like doing things like that. It is often a catalyst for new work.

We drew, we painted, we made scarves using local plants for dyes, we explored, and we made our own concertina books. I tended to do my own thing, which was collecting objects and taking photographs. Down on the dry riverbed I made a caterpillar from dried algae.

The woman who sat next to me on the Troopie also tended to do her own thing. She was a poet and muso. She would sit quietly writing poetry and picking her ukulele. Her poetry was humorous and we all had great chuckles listening to her recite it by the campfire at night. In fact we all laughed a lot generally.

After the camp, I visited the woman who had sat next to me on that Troopie. There was something about her that attracted me and she lived quite close to my family in Sydney. Our friendship developed and blossomed. We had an ease of connection; attraction developed.

And yes, we are now partners and I have the most beautiful woman to love for the rest of my life. 
So if I had not made that final snap decision to do something quite different to my normal hermit lifestyle, if I had not sat where I sat on that Troopie…

• IMAGE CREDITS: Photographer: Tony Sevil TAGGED UNDER: unexpected, nt gorge, art camp ABC open story


Text for photo of my father at my art exhibition at NERAM Feb/March 2014

My father Tom; ‘My father was a grazier. As a kid riding with him to muster sheep, I was always lagging behind and having to boot old Rusty along to catch up. Rusty would pin his ears back, make a poor attempt at a trot, almost catch up to the chestnut mare, decide that was far enough and return to a slow walk. and I would gradually trail further and further behind until Dad would say “Kick him along” and the catch up procedure started again.

So my view of Dad was mainly of a worn felt hat, a weatherbeaten neck and the fly matted back of his Gloster shirt. It was always silent riding with Dad, until… “Come behind! Come behind here! Dear oh Dear. Come  behind!” The dogs had sniffed out a rabbit and were chasing it in all directions “Come behind, Come behind here” The dogs eventually gave up the chase. But not at Dad’s calling. The rabbit was just too clever and finally disappeared down a warren. The dogs trotted back sheepishly, tongues lolling and returned to trailing between the hind legs of Dad’s mare.

The chestnut mare paced along while Dad scanned the hills for sheep or looked at the ground for pasture growth…or bathurst burrs.   Walking, Dad noticed things on the ground. He would often pick up something that caught his eye and examine it. I probably got my interest in objects on the ground from him. Dad was also very good at spotting dropped coins. However he was far better than me at keeping them in his pocket ! ‘


 

 Elsie

I have a soft spot for chooks. They are independent and industrious and I get many chuckles watching them go about there endless scratch and peck routine. And of course when everything is going well and they haven’t gone broody they each lay me an egg a day.

Chooks are not what I would call cuddly pets but I have discovered over time that I can carry them around under my arm without them digging their claws into me trying to escape. They are certainly not emotionally demanding and with their small head I expect they are not overly bright.

However they are very good at letting me know with increasingly desperate squawks that they want to get out of their pen. They know of course that I will eventually relent and let them out. I had four chooks  which I think I looked after well and talked to them often in a kind of chook dialect. But one night I forgot to shut them in their pen and a fox took three of them, biting their heads off. (I wondered how long those clever and cunning animals watch and wait for an opportunity.).

I buried them and then for a couple of months I just had the one chook, which I named Elsie. Having lost her mates she used to follow me around. If I was gardening she would be right there beside me, being lazy and letting me do the digging, waiting for worms in the turned over soil. If I was working on my outside table she would often flap up onto the table and demonstrate some random arrangements. Sometimes I would get irritated with her if she trampled on important things and I would push her off with a few choice words.

But I guess she just missed her mates. They foraged around together non-stop, darting from one to the other if they thought the others were onto some juicy morsel.

I think she also thought I was a rooster as, often if I was close to her, she would squat down in submissive mode. I would sometimes give her a bit of a push on her back. She would sit there squatting for a bit as if to say “surely there is more to it than that!”. She was also quick as a flash if I left the house door open. She would make a beeline for the spot on the floor below the couch in front of the TV where I have my evening meal.

After a couple of months I bought two more chooks as company for Elsie. After Elsie had trained the new arrivals as to who was the boss chook they all got on well. But Elsie got crook. She went off the lay and hunched up beside the water After seeing sick chooks before I know that they sometimes just fade away. Having grown up on a farm I had seen quite a lot of animal deaths. I hadn’t worried about getting treatment for a chook before.

But on this occasion I found it hard watching Elsie deteriorate so I took her to the Vet. I opened the door holding my cardboard box with chook. The receptionist said gruffly “have you got an appointment?”. I said “no I hadn’t …I didn’t realize I had to have one”. “Well you do…but I might be able to fit you in after the vet finishes with the dog in there”. What have you got? “A crook chook”.I said. I sensed she was more of a dog person than a chook person. She was rather dismissive and I suspected she was wondering why on earth I would bring a chook in.

An old guy came out with his friendly Labrador. I felt a bit embarrassed bringing a chook in, and I was sort of pleased that I didn’t carry her under my arm rather than in a box. By having her in a box other people coming to the Vet might think I had a cuddly puppy or a guinea pig or a nice tabby pussy. Elsie was certainly too crook to squawk to give herself away I could tell that the Vet was not too confident about Elsie’s chances.

She put her hand up her tract to check if she was egg-bound. Elsie hardly flinched. “She’s not egg-bound. Bit hard to tell when chooks are ill. Chooks can’t really tell you. So when you notice them ill they are usually very ill” She looked at me as if to say “are you sure you want to do anything about this” I said I did. With my approval she gave Elsie an anti biotic. She gave me 2 syringes to take home to give over next couple of days.

I looked at the instruction on the packet and the identification of my bird. Chook Sevil. Chook Sevil! She hadn’t even asked me Elsie’s name. I bet the Labrador before me wasn’t identified as Dog Deans! Home I went with my chook in the box having handed over $87 for the treatment of my $12 chook. I isolated Elsie in a separate coop. I gave her food and fresh water. She showed little interest. When I checked her later she was dead. I don’t form any great emotional attachments to chooks but Elsie was a kind of mate and she didn’t slobber over you like a Dog Deans would.

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Alf Buccal, Brickthrower

 

The Ad below was placed in Avago Magazine by Alf Buccal

47 year old bloke, solid, finance ok, competitive brickthrower. Interested in many alternative sports. Looking for woman with similar interests to settle down with.

Alf Buccal was interviewed by Social Researcher and Journalist, Heather Ardell, who saw the Ad in the alternative sports magazine Avago. Below are Alf’s responses to the interview

A bit about my life? Well, how much time have you got? How I got started in brickthrowing? Well, before we go further I just wanted to say I was the Australian Brickthrowing Champion  10 times during my 20’s and 30’s. The record still stands. Didn’t want to say that in the Ad. If a sort saw it she might think I was big notin meself.

Me old man was a foreman at a brick kiln outa Cessnock. I used to hang about the kiln. Started throwing stones. Liked the feel of it ya know….then got onto quarter bricks, then half then by the time I was 15 I won the Australian Youth Championship with a full brick. No stopping me then. Takes a lot of practice though I can tell you The sports been good to me. I’ve done it all Heather… gum boot throwing, cow dung throwing, wet T shirt throwing, dead rat tossing, hay sheaths, brooms, . Throwing gets into ya blood…ya get kinda addicted… rolling pins, dead mullet.

But been thinking lately Heather…ya know I’ve done it all but I’ve been thinkin there’s something missin in me life. Ya get a bit lonely ya know travellin around the country sleepin  rough in your panel van with a pile of practice bricks for company. But don’t get me wrong I’ve had plenty of sorts along the way. I remember I had it off with this egg tosser in Alice. But she got a brick jammed into her back… got infected… crook for a long time. Got close to getting hitched a coupla times. This sort from the coast , really liked her… she was the North Coast Prawn Peeling champion. Her fingers moved like greased lightning. But then, sort of odd, in the middle of a comp she started eating the prawns shell and all…musta got caught somewhere… she carked it right there.

Another sort was a Shouting champion’ she was a real beauty. Bit noisy ya know but she was a bit of orright…pardon the language Heather. Went out with her for quite awhile. She finished up leaving me for a rabbit skinning champion from Victoria.

Cut me up a bit that. But I had me bricks. Yes Heather now I’m lookin for a sort to settle down with. Someone who got similar interests.and feels the same way about settlin down. You know Heather,I would really like to start up a brickthrowing school, Buccal’s Brickthrowing School eh…sounds good eh. Start with bricks then ya could move into gumboots, dead mullets, hubcaps and so on. They all need different techniques you know. Might even do a bit of judgin too. Be great to have a sort part of it..do the books you know… that sort of thing.

I would like to do some more travellin and it would be real good if ya had someone to share it all with. I mean I havnt been to the Lizard Racing championships up in Eulo yet. Then there’s the Guinea Pig Racing down in Vic, The Cane Toad Derby in Cooktown. And you know what Heather, I wouldn’t mind even going overseas with a missus. We could go to the Worm Races in Wisconsin. We could even compete. Ya can train your own worm or if you cant ya can rent a fully trained  one. There are also the mouse races down in Kansas. Heap of other things. Yes… that would be pretty good being able to do things with a missus. And ya know what would be great Heather. If the missus and me went in the Wife Carrying Races down in Tassie. Yeah that ‘d be tops.

 

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The coming of a storm, and the hope of rain.

One of my earliest memories growing up on the north west plains was the effect of an approaching storm on my senses. At the end of a stinking hot cloudless day it was often still. A sort of exhausted still.

A bull out in the back paddock squeezes out a weary bellow. Sheep dogs stretch out, asleep in the shade of the box thorn beside their kennels. The windmill is motionless. Sometimes a whirly wind silently spins across the paddock, sweeping up grass heads and spirally them high in the sky. Then later the silence is broken by bleating sheep coming in to water, clambering over each other to get to the cooler water near the ball cock.

But sometimes in summer, clouds would build up in the west with lightning and a distant rumble of thunder. “A long way off,” my father says. But he scans the sky with hope. The sun is setting red through a grey horizon. The clouds build up more and there is the sweet scent of rain in the air. Showers are about. “Mulligans might be getting a bit,” my father says. And then the wind comes. Dust sieves through the verandah gauze. It gets stronger. Lightning is close.The thunder cracks. “Doesn’t look like there is much in it though,” my father says. The wind picks up strength. A sheet of iron careers erratically across the house yard.

The “must fix that” door bangs on the saddle room. Dog chains rattle against tin as the dogs dive into the safety of their kennels. The windmill whirrs and clunks at a vicious speed. The fan swings crazily with wind changes. The tank overflows in a wind driven spray. The horse bucks and farts. Out in the paddock ‘roly poly’ bushes tumble and jump across the open plain before coming to an abrupt halt at a fence. The coolibah tree near the house rustles furiously and fragile, brittle leaves are ripped off.

My father is on the verandah scanning the sky, watching the direction of the storm. And then it’s with us. Above the clanging of loose tin, the sound of a few heavy drops of rain on the tin roof. The storm teases for awhile and then its gone. It’s still again. “Just a dry storm” my father says, and dog chains rattle against tin.

Thursday, 14/07/2005, ABC Bush Telegraph program With all the talk of drought and rain, it’s timely to hear from those who have lived through it all before. Tony Sevil from Uralla in New South Wales recalls a childhood in the north-west of the state 

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Resilience and Sensory Appreciation

By Tony Sevil ·  2 min read · From 500 Words: Family Trait

My father was a woolgrower, as were three generations before him on the same property, which was selected by my great, great grandfather in the 1830s. My brother is the fifth generation on that property. There are many other family members still on the land in the North West, which I think is perhaps an indication of their resilience gained from a long, in non-Indigenous terms, association with the land.

Dad was a true conservationist and understood the vagaries of the climate in our land and the importance, for example, of not overstocking. Droughts were always just around the corner. But he still managed a very productive property.

He was a very quiet, sensitive man who had a silent communion with nature.
I recall as a kid on my old horse Rusty, riding out to muster sheep on the plains and later on the Liverpool range. He would only talk when I lagged behind. “Kick him along”, and I would boot Rusty in the saddle with my little legs and he would almost break into a trot and almost catch up to my father.

I learned a lot about silent appreciation of the land from my father. Like many on the land he was very observant- looking at the ground for signs of new growth after a shower of rain had broken a dry spell, scanning the hills for sheep when mustering, noticing the low cloud that often blanketed the range after a southerly change.

I learned from watching and feeling. The sparkle of light on a swift flowing stream; the expansive view of the ‘plains of heaven’ from the top of the range where we rested the horses for a short while after the steep climb to the top, with the scent of their sweet breath as they puffed close by, looking to the sky for the tell-tale mare’s tail clouds that suggested a change in the weather; the rush of a flooded creek.

On the plains I can still see wind driven roly-poly bushes hopping and dancing across the flat cracking surface. The sounds of the bush- the calls of magpies, galahs, cockatoos, the bellow of a bull, the whispering whistle of wind in casuarinas, the rustle of dry eucalypt leaves, sheep bleating at a trough. The taste of dust in my mouth, the aarrr aar of crows, the stench of dead sheep, and the sweet smell in the air of approaching rain.

I am not on the land now. But I know those early appreciations of nature, of silent observation and feelings for the land passed on from my father have been a huge subliminal influence in my life.

I cannot have the understanding that our Aboriginal people have for this land. Our family has only lived on the land in this continent for 180 years. The Aboriginal people have lived here for some 70,000. But I do love and care for this land and although now a sculptor, writer and photographer and living on a 12 acre block close to a small town, my senses were charged from a very early age by my father. I also learned to persevere when times are tough- when my dreams were hindered in becoming reality by internal and/or external pressures.

I try to instill in my son the trait of resilience but also with it a sensory appreciation of our wide brown land.

Published 07 Jan 2015.

My Path

Story written for ABC Open

http://open.abc.net.au/explore/32wh3fh

 

Thunderbolt Prize Winners: Tony Sevil, winner of the New England Award