Grand Western Lodge in Millthorpe (c) David Roma

Grand Western Lodge, Milthorp

Epic and Photograph by Warrigal Mirriyuula

It was an August Sunday that began as winter Sundays often did in Molong. The watery sun rose over the shoulder of Mount Canobolas, racing down the western flank and across the orchards and morning paddocks, setting the frost asparkle and chasing the wispy mists from the hollows and shadows. Clear blue sky with a few high thin clouds, it looked like it was going to be a glorious day.

A little after the sun had bathed all Molong in its Sunday beneficence the church bells began ringing. Across Molong chimneys issuing that thicker smoke confirmed the stuffing of kitchen fireboxes; that tea, and toast, and pots of porridge were being prepared.

But there was one kitchen, on Shields Lane, that had been warming up since well before sunrise. In that kitchen Porky, Algy and Harry had feasted on a big breakfast of porridge, sausages, eggs and fried tomatoes, doorstep slabs of toast and butter, thickly covered with Beryl’s dark marmalade, and all washed down with buckets of sweet black tea. This was a big breakfast for Porky’s big day and the whole household including Mongrel and The Runt were focussed on the task at hand, and not a day too soon. All three men were heartily sick and tired of spuds at every meal. Even Mongrel and The Runt had turned their noses up at more chips, more mash.

The last training bag of King Edwards had finally been abandoned, left slumped in the corner of the garden shed. Harry thought he might dig them in and wait for spring to bring a bumper crop of spuds, and they’d fix some nitrogen in the vegie garden too; but that was for later. Today was Porky’s day. The future of that last bag of training spuds was deferred, waiting on the fortunes of another bag of spuds currently sitting in Milthorpe with Porky’s name on it.

Porky had been working towards this day for months now. Right from the time he heard it first mentioned in the bar at The Freemasons. That mention, of course, orbiting around the opportunity for a punt. To carry a hundred weight bag of spuds for a mile, let alone run the distance. Well, that was ripe for plunge.

But for Porky it had come to represent something else; a right of passage, a way that he might shuck off Fairbridge using the only things Fairbridge had ever given him; his bodily strength and his strength of character.

To run a respectable race and not come last had been his original goal, but with Tommy Molloy lately assuming the role of athlete trainer and advisor, his aspirations had grown a little. He didn’t really think he could win but he might be able to place.

Porky was determined to make a good show of his appearance or go down in the attempt: and in that way that Fairbridge boys can be, when they’d no-one else to rely on but themselves, he was certain he had it in him. He just needed to find it and get it going.

As the church bells were ringing Harry, Porky and The Runt, Algy and Mongrel jumped into Harry’s little Anglia van and, with Tommy Molloy riding point on his Matchless, set off for Milthorpe; the dogs hanging their heads out the passenger window, their ears twitching and there tongues and jowls flapping.

It seemed that half of Molong had made the 30 odd mile trip to Milthorpe for this quintessentially country contest. Indeed the little village of Milthorpe had swollen to four or five times its weekday size. The streets were full of visitors, and though the pubs were closed they were still doing a roaring trade for “legitimate travellers”, discretely of course.

All the shops, ordinarily shut on a Sunday, were bannered and bunted, there were potato pictures all over the place and a gay air of carnival filled the town. There was even going to be a ball and a fashion parade in the evening, put on by the local CWA, where local beauties would disport themselves down an improvised catwalk in The Amusu Theatre wearing clothing fashioned from hessian spud bags.

Before that shindig though the day included many other potato related events including the “Tug O’Spuds”, a tug of war contest broken down into age and weight divisions for boys, girls, teens and men and women. There was a peeling competition, a spud throwing competition and various pick up and carry a spud contests all leading up to the big event, The Milthorpe Murphy Marathon mid afternoon.

Down at the Redmond Oval finishing line the bunting was flapping fit to bust, bar-b-ques were sizzling and all the kids had gathered for their events. It was bedlam in the marshaling area.

The Tannoys barked out a call for all contestants competing in the tug’o’spuds finals to gather in the marshaling area. Young George Cassimatty got his Molong Under Twelve’s Tuggers, “The MUTT’s”, together in the corner of the dressing sheds for a pre pull pep talk.

“We got a strategy we practiced,” George said earnestly looking at each boy on the team, “and we gotta stick with it. So don’t forget, it’s all on Paul.” Young Paul Cassimatty smiled shyly at the team. For once he was enjoying the celebrity his size was bringing him. George continued, “If Paul goes down we lose; but if we can keep him tipped back on his feet and we all pull together we got a good chance of beatin’ The Warriors.”

It seemed simple enough.

The Wolaroi Warriors were the team to beat. A private school team from Orange, their under twelves, dressed in new blue track suits, with white piping and their names on the back, had blitzed the knockout. The team had some very big islander boys with muscles on their muscles and it was clear they meant business. The seeding in their age division meant that The Mutts and The Warriors had yet to face off on the field of battle.

With the rules limiting total team weight, the inclusion of George’s younger brother Paul as Anchor Man, who at only ten still topped out at just over twelve stone himself, meant that the rest of the team had to be all muscle and sinew.

George reckoned he was pretty tough himself and he had picked the strongest, toughest under twelves he could find; an odd bunch of big shouldered. thick legged solid farmer’s sons. Looking a bit untidy if not scruffy, the team’s appearance was made somewhat absurd by the fact that the new MUTT’s “blueys” the boys all wore courtesy of Mrs Cassimatty were “one large size fits all”. Which meant Paul’s was stretched almost to splitting, while on the rest of the team they flapped in the breeze. The boys didn’t care. This was the big day. If they won no-one would even notice their oversized blueys.

When it came to the actual contest the two teams were almost perfectly matched and from get go the rope crept first one way then the other as the teams fell back and pulled for all they were worth. There were some slips and recoveries, strategy and tactics out the window as the imperative of moving the tape on the rope became all the two teams were focussed on. The big islander boys on the Warriors did their damnedest to pull the Mutts in but every time they seemed about to pull the Mutts over, the Mutts would find that extra bit, legs pumping in unison like a train, George shouting at the team like a demon demanding his due.

At ten minutes the marshals began to discuss amongst themselves the possibility of calling a draw, there being no clear superiority of strength shown by either team.

A crowd had been drawn in by the commentator excitedly calling every move of the tape and a group of Molong teens had gathered and begun shouting “Mutts, Mutts Mutts!” while others amongst them were just barking like dogs. Mongrel and the Runt joining in as Harry and Algy joined the crowd to cheer on the plucky boys.

Those fans of the Warriors that had gathered were more restrained, “Oh, good show Warriors! Good show!” They simply couldn’t believe that their team might be bested by a scruffy bunch of public school boys in home made singlets who’d had to borrow their tugging boots from the local CMF.

It seemed like they’d been pulling for hours and young George Cassimatty knew that the team was fading. He could feel the loss of power through the rope. If they didn’t pull these Warriors over soon they’d lose.

George shouted “Drop!” and the team, without losing grip or diminishing their pull, all eased down such that their boots dug in, their legs extended to the front while they leant all the way back. “Train!”

The Mutts went into automatic; a synchronised pull and fall with a quick step to pull back on the rope. The Warriors just leaning back trying to absorb the bursts of energy in the Mutt’s tactic. It took a huge effort to stage each tug and George felt like they might only have a dozen of these staged pulls in them. He began to count them off. By number 8 it was working, by ten a Warrior had fallen and it was all over on the twelfth pull, the Warriors co-ordination just falling apart and the Mutts dragging the tape on the rope well over the line.

No sooner did the whistle blow than both teams just collapsed where they were in heaving, gasping, sweaty heaps. They’d been pulling for almost fifteen minutes and they were all completely exhausted. The crowd, now grown to quite a number, cheered madly, whistling and hooting like this was a major sporting final.

Young George Cassimatty rolled slowly over the grass to his brother Paul lying spread eagle on his back, his face beetroot red from the exertion; “We beat ’em mate, we beat ’em!”

“Yeah, we did…”, Paul gasped with a huge grin, before rolling over and throwing up. He really had given it everything and George had never been prouder of his little brother.

In the shade of a tree over by the oval fence a keen observer of the post tug celebrations would have noted Jack Hornby discretely but happily receiving a wad of folded fivers from a man in  “plus fours” and a tweed jacket.  That wad of fivers wouldn’t be paying the Wolaroi fees this term.

As ever, Jack Hornby from The Freemasons had made the journey to Milthorpe for the usual reasons. It was whispered in the back bar at The Grand Western Lodge, The Commercial and Railway Hotels in Milthorpe that there was going to be a heavy plunge of late betting on one of the big McClelland brothers from Spring Hill. The brothers were odds on anyway, but you know how punters get when they think they sniff a winning dividend and Jack was just there for his cut.

The McClellands had pioneered spud farming on the rich basalt soils of the area. The brothers had been humping spuds since they were just tackers so the smart money was already heavily backing the three huge brothers for the win and places. The brothers were all built like brick outhouses but young Dick was the biggest of them. He stood six foot four and had once lifted a Massey Ferguson off the trapped operator after it’d rolled on a slope. A happy, hard working bloke; Dick McClelland would give you the shirt of his back and then buy you a beer to seal the deal.

The Tannoys announced a break in the proceedings at Redmond Oval and called for all Marathon entrants to assemble in Station Place for final checks before the race.

Tommy and Porky were already there trying to deal with Porky’s pre race nerves. Tommy Molloy was really getting into his role as trainer and athlete advisor. Porky couldn’t care less what Tommy was getting out of this adventure but Tommy’s constantly whispered encouragement and conspiratorially whispering  “Champ” in his ear while he massaged Doc’s secret embrocation into Porky’s neck and shoulders; well it did seem to be doing some kind of trick. Porky had it in his mind to win and Tommy’s conspiratorial whisperings where no small part of that idea.

After all the final checks the contestants were assembled outside the railway station on Station Place. This was it, Porky thought licking his lips . It was time to piss or get off the pot.

Tommy held Porky’s bag by the stitches so he wouldn’t get in the way of Porky’s pick up by the “ears” of the bag. They’d practiced this so often now that it was second nature to them both.

“Gentlemen,” the starter’s stentorian voice intoned as he looked down the line. All the competitors’ eyes turned to him. The crowd near the line was pushing back just a little to give the runners a bit more spread. “…you may grab your bags.”

The runners did as instructed and for a fleeting moment Tommy and Porky’s eyes met. They questioned their practiced pick up technique as they spied the various grips the others applied to their bags. Tommy saw the relaxed look of anticipation on the faces of the three McClelland brothers and thought he had to put a spoke in those wheels.

“We’ll go with what we know.” Tommy whispered to Porky, who was nodding and licking his lips. “You can win this Champ. Believe it and it’ll happen. These big blokes’ll run outa steam, see if they don’t. They gotta haul that fat with ‘em too remember.”

Tommy then cheekily looked over at big Dick McClelland, blew him a kiss and winked at him, then turned to give Porky a very serious look. Porky’s face screwed into a huge grin. He figured he was in with a chance. Just how big a chance he’d know soon enough.

Dick McClelland had been feeling relaxed, ready, taking it all in his stride until just a moment ago. Now he’d come over all queer, or maybe that was the other bloke. Dick wasn’t sure. He’d met Porky at registration and liked Porky’s pluck. He figured the stripling didn’t stand a chance against him and his brothers, but what a heart he must have. Dick liked blokes with heart; but that Porky’s bagman; he was just queer; blowing a bloke a bloody kiss. What was the bugger up to? It took him a moment to get his concentration back on the starter, every now and then taking another quick glance at Tommy; but Tommy was busy whispering narratives of triumph into Porky’s ear

The starter had them now, all lined up on Station Place, the crowd descending into a murmuring hush. The scrutineers quickly shuffled up the line of starters; just to be sure no one was cheating. Apparently satisfied, they turned their back to the crowd near the starting line, and with arms out, backed them off just that bit more. A clear start was imperative when you had a man with a hundredweight of spuds pushing like the devil to get ahead.

The scrutineers nodded to the starter in turn, and the starter raised his gun.

“Gentlemen, let’s have a good clean race, and may the best man win!”

The starter took one last quick glance along the starting line. There were no over eager feet edging across the yellow paint. He looked up Station Place. It was all clear and the crowd, formerly buzzing with anticipation, now fell absolutely silent. With his eye on the line of competitors, the starter paused briefly for effect, then squeezed the trigger. The starting shot shattered the air with a crack that echoed up the street.

As the reverberation of the starters gun died away the runners tightened their grips and hefted their bags up onto their shoulders; and with a communal grunt of exertion took off up the low rise to Elliot Street.

Simultaneously the Tannoys mounted on the telegraph poles commenced barking an incomprehensible commentary, each horn seeming to argue with all the others and the lot drowned out by the cheering of the crowd.

The runners’ exertions brought an immediate thick sheen of sweat to their faces and shoulders as they tried to build up speed and get into their stride.  The whooping and cheering crowd fell in behind the competitors and followed them up the street shouting encouragement and advice to their favourites. Kids on bicycles kept up with the front runners, barracking and shouting for all they were worth.

Predictably it was the McClelland brothers who were away best. All three of them, their bags held high on the shoulder, the sinews in their muscled arms and thick necks straining with the load, held the front running while a small group of hopefuls including Porky did their best to catch them up. The rest of the field strung out down Elliot Street as the McClellands approached the corner into Victoria Street.

Porky had got a clean start and got his bag up and himself moving all in one smooth movement. The months lumping bags of spuds around Molong were paying off.

As Porky rounded the corner of Elliot Street the spuds shifting inside the bag unbalanced him and wrong-footed his stride. He almost toppled sideways but recovered well, if inelegantly, and found the slight downhill slope to his advantage as he pushed himself to top speed, making his way around the outside of the trailing group until he saw clear air between him and the big McClelland brothers, now a good fifty yards ahead and going strong. Urging one another to greater efforts for further family glory, the three brothers looked unbeatable as they grunted up the Victoria Street Hill.

By the time Porky had turned into Victoria Tommy Molloy and The Runt had caught up with him and were egging him on from the sidelines. “Do it for Fairbridge!”, young Molloy shouted at Porky, “Run son, run!” The Runt barking and running alongside Porky.

“Bugger.., bloody.., Fairbridge!” was all Porky could breathlessly respond between footfalls, his face, neck and shoulders a cascade of dripping sweat; his eyes never leaving the McClellands ahead.

The McClellands, meanwhile, had fallen into single file with big Dick at the front followed by Jack and the eldest brother Eddie bringing up the rear. It looked for all the world as if they couldn’t be beaten. The three brothers seemed like a single machine, three freight wagons in train, their stride a vision of commensurate locomotion, their feet pushing off and falling together, the bags moving in unison like a camel with three humps. It was like that for the best part of the half a mile past the Great Western, down Montgomery Street, round on Blake and then the last uphill run before the long slope down to Redmond Oval; it remained the McClellands, daylight, then Porky just managing to keep ahead of the rest of the pack.

These were the hard yards for all the competitors and Porky’s lungs felt raw as he gulped in huge lmouthfuls of air, every muscle screaming to keep the hundredweight bag of spuds across his shoulders and his legs pumping to carry it and him just that bit closer to catching up with the McClelland potato train chugging along remorselessly ahead of him down the long slope to Redmond Oval.

Then Porky noticed that Eddy was faltering. He was falling behind, just a bit and from Porky’s view he seemed to be in trouble. He stumbled and almost lost his footing but he recovered awkwardly and soldiered on, though now he was a good fifteen yards behind his brothers. who took an occasional concerned backward glance for Eddie.

A few more paces and it became apparent that there was something definitely wrong with Eddie. He broke pace and sort of toppled to the side of the street, dropping his bag and falling to the ground grabbing at his ankle, his face contorted in pain.

Porky was never one to let a bloke in trouble face it on his own.

“You right mate? Porky asked breathlessly as he came along towards Eddie, who was now rolling on his bum, looking at the sky, while his hands held his injured leg. “Ya need a hand?”

“Done me ankle..” Eddie winced, “…but you get on. Give them brothers o’mine someone to worry about.”

Porky just nodded and pushed himself on. He’d slowed just a little and the bag of spuds now felt like a mountain across his tiring shoulders. His legs feeling like two logs, it was all he could do to keep them going. He had fallen well behind slowing up for Eddie McClelland and the pack had gained on him, now just a few yards away.

The crowd had noticed Porky’s concern for his competitor and cheered him loudly as he took off after the younger brothers. Being a good sport the equivalent of being a winner in the bush ethos, one punter shouting “Go, you skinny thing! Go!”, another offering, “Its like watchin’ a speedin’ spud on a toothpick!”

Well, that was all Porky needed. He had no clue were the extra came from but it came just in time. Without losing stride he bounced the spuds to a slightly better position across his shoulders, locked his lower abdominals and willing his legs to do his bidding, pushed himself as he had never done before.

Porky never took his eyes off the the two McClellands until they crossed the finish line at Redmond Oval, by which time he had gained enough on them to not only come a very respectable third, but to become the subject of a great deal of debate. Particularly amongst those that had taken a losing flutter on the outcome.

In the immediate aftermath of the marathon a consensus had formed amongst those that had taken the outsider bet on the stripling from Molong, that had he not slowed down to offer help to Eddie McClelland, the gain he made on the other brothers in the final stages of the marathon might have been enough, had he achieved that pace without the slowing, well, to have come home a winner.

It was a convoluted argument and that guaranteed that it would have a life of its own as everybody talked and argued about the marathon and its outcome into the afternoon and evening. Punters might have lost their bet on Porky but to them he was a champion.

Porky was still a bit delirious from the exertion of the race when Tommy Molloy found him lying back against his bag of spuds in the marshals area behind the finish line. The Runt sat between Porky’s spread legs grooming himself, guarding Porky. Tommy Molloy brought a wet towel with ice rolled into it and he wrapped Porky’s head to cool him off, then began rubbing more of Doc’s special embrocation into Porky’s shoulders, and then his legs, all the while keeping up a soothing banter about real champions, and sportsmanship, and doing the best you could, and maybe that best was better than you thought, and how he was really the winner; according to certain persons Tommy wouldn’t name.

Porky didn’t care. He just wanted to breathe, and enjoy the warming of Doc’s special embrocation in his poor tied muscles. When he did speak it was only to pour scorn on any idea that big Dick McClelland didn’t win fair and square, with his brother Jack a pace or two behind.

“You’re a bloody hero. That’s all there is to it, and you’ll have to get used to it.” Tommy said with conviction as he adjusted Porky’s ice turban. The Runt was still getting used to Tommy and watched him closely with a cynical eye.

Big Dick McClleland was approaching them. Still red and gasping himself, he none the less managed a great big wide eyed grin.

“Maaate, that was unbelievable! Third, mate! Jesus! Look at you compared to some o’ these blokes. Bloody outstanding!” There was no insult intended. It was just how Dick saw it. “Had to come over and say congratulations, we’ll have to have a few beers after. Eddie said to say thanks. He’s got a badly twisted ankle. Lucky bastard’ll be on his arse for a week. You shouldn’a slowed down though, you might have caught us.”

“No real chance of that Dicky” Porky shook his head, “You blokes were like a train. Pity about Eddie though. Ya coulda had a family trifecta.”

“Nah, don’ worry about it. Its not important, just a bit’o fun.” Dick said squatting down with Porky; Tommy Molloy noting the huge difference in bulk between them. “No one’s ever called me Dicky before,” Dick furrowed his brow, then relaxed, “but I don’t mind it. Gotta kinda skip in it. Yeah, Dicky.” Dick was nodding vigorously. “But only you, alright? I dunno if I could take the brothers calling me Dicky.”

Then, noticing The Runt. “Hey Titch.” Dick said, as he reached out a gave the Runt a scratch under the chin, which astoundingly the Runt allowed. He even seemed to enjoy it. “What a good little soldier, yes you are, a good little soldier.”

“He must like you.” Tommy said somewhat sourly, having never been able to get a hand on the Runt himself.

Dick McClelland looked up at Tommy and fixed him with a hard look.

“What was that bullshit at the start? Blowin’ me a bloody kiss and a wink.”

“Just a bit of friendly psy-ops against the opposition. Didn’t work did it? There was that wicked Molloy grin again.

“No it bloodywell didn’t ya queer cove,” Dick said emphatically, “but ya must have somethin’ to get this beanpole into third, so I s’pose you can join us for a beer.” Dick continued to look at Tommy, “Bloody ratbag!”

Dick’s assessment of Tommy made Porky laugh but it was more than Porky’s tortured lungs could stand and the laughing turned to coughing and hacking, which eventually produced a huge bolus of phlegm that Porky was trying to hold in his mouth while he looked around for some discrete place to expectorate.

He took the towel off his head spat into a corner, wadded the muck and tucked the towel under the edge of the spud bag. “Sorry, but I’m absolutely rooted.” Porky said looking a little sheepish.

“Course you are. Effort like that’d put the biggest bloke on notice,” Dick said reaching down to help Porky up. “Come on son lets get some water into you, you must be dehydrated after all that.”

“I think I’ll just lie here a bit longer, I’m finished.”

I’ll go and get ya some water then. Back in a minute” Dick trotted over a to table loaded with water bottles and grabbed one as Algy, Mongrel and Harry made their way through the mass of abandoned spud bags, recovering runners, trainers and marshals.

When Mongrel saw Porky and the Runt he loped over and gave Porky a bit of a sniff, the pong of Doc’s embrocation causing him to sneeze violently. Mongrel then licked Porky’s face as Porky ruffled the top of his head. The Runt wasn’t going to miss out on all this good feeling and he clambered up Porky’s chest and began licking too, causing Porky to topple sideways off the spuds, the three of them becoming a ball of exhausted man and excited dogs rolling on the grass. Dick returned, offering Harry his hand.

“G’day, Dick McClelland. You gotta real hero here.” Dick said shaking Harry’s hand and giving the water to Porky.

“Harry McCafferty. Yes, it seems we have.” Harry said proudly, shaking Dick’s hand.

“Yes, there’ll be fellows who’ll think less of themselves that they weren’t here today. Algy Hampton” Algy proffered his hand, hoping that he’d managed to paraphrase Shakespeare without sounding too posh.

“Good t’meet ya, mate.” Dick generously enclosing Algy’s mitt with both hands and giving it a good country shake.

Porky just gratefully, greedily, guzzled the whole bottle of water.

The rest of the day fell into a round of congratulations and back slapping, beer drinking and swapping yarns of Marathons past and yet to be run. As the day began to wain the boys had fallen in with a couple of local girls who were involved in the fashion parade to be put on in the Amusu later that evening. From that nascent association a plot was hatched for a special item to be presented as the finale of the fashion parade.

Later as the evening progressed, the crowd in the Amusu, having sat through the hessian fashion parade where surprised to hear the announcement of an additional “special item” for the finale.

There was some general hubbub as movement in the curtain suggested some sort of unseen activity on the stage. The lights went down and two lines of girls dressed in skimpy hessian outfits lined up on either side of the catwalk. There was a full blackout with follow spot on the curtain.

From the radiogram backstage The Chordettes burst into “Mr Sandman”, the opening figure of the quartet harmonising like bells establishing a leitmotif that prefigured the madness to come.

The girls lined up on the catwalk began to strut their stuff as though they were The Milthorpe Rockettes, a few high kicks causing a scramble amongst those in the front rows as they hurriedly got out of the way of those wide swinging legs, but it was Porky and Dick’s night.

Dick and Porky half fell through the hessian curtain into the spotlight, spilling their pint pots over each other and the giggling girls assembled around them. Smiling sheepishly at the audience they turned to each other and gave one another the nod.The boys, each with a fat spud to chew raw, wandered off down the catwalk like a couple of old time boulevardiers, winking lasciviously at the women in the audience and pinching the bottoms of the girls in the chorus, chomping on their spuds and toasting one another with their beer. Dick was a big bloke in all respects while Porky looked like Jack Spratt beside him. It was an absurd sight.

When the song reached its chorus with the Chordettes harmonising like bells, the boys bent over and turned their bums to the audience and slapped them in time, singing out loudly “Bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum!”

The crowd didn’t quite know what to make of this spectacle. Should they laugh at these champions or should they be appalled? In the end, as is so often the case, they did both, the men laughing at the boys antics while the women, strenuously deploring the “bum” chorus, were laughing too but with looks of shocked horror every time the boys slapped out the rude bits.

The song played through to the mounting hilarity of the crowd and the big finish saw the two girls of earlier acquaintance jump into the arms of Porky and Dick, arms thrown wide and legs kicking. The boys then, planting a big kiss on their partners, spun the girls around and carried them off the stage while the girls of the chorus took the bow, encouraged by the clapping and whistling from the audience, all of whom had finally decided that the “bum” chorus was just a bit of fun really, and it was hilarious.

Backstage the boys had fallen together, slapping one another’s backs and hanging off each other, laughing like the good times were here to stay, the girls giggling and some of them rubbing their bottoms where the boys had applied a little too much pinch.

The boys finally got themselves together and stood facing each other, hands on one another’s shoulders. It was a moment when each of them in their own way acknowledged that this day had been important, not just for the win and place, but for the friendship found, the likeness of mind, something shared.

The moment passed and the boys separated looking a little embarrassed.

“Mates?” said Dick quietly.

“Yeah, mates” replied Porky

“That was a bloody fine effort. You can be proud of today.”

“You too.”

“Ah well, I dunno, really…., Its not rocket science is it, carryin’ a bag of spuds”

“Lets go and get a beer.” Porky said, giving Dick a manly slap on the back.

“Yeah, that sounds like a plan.” Dick said, happy that the awkward soppy moment had passed.

And so they did, several in fact, and not one of them required the boys to reach into their own pockets. It seemed every one wanted to stand the stripling a beer, and Dick, well he was the champion of the day.

Harry, never having been much of a drinker, was sober enough to drive and finally tumbled the Molong contingent back into the Anglia van sometime toward midnight. Tommy was on duty in the morning and had already gone home on his bike much earlier, so it was just the little black Anglia winding its way through the late winter night back to Molong.

By the time Harry was driving up Summer Street in Orange, the stars peaking down between the shops, Algy and Porky were snoring slumberously, the dogs too. The gentle rhythm of the snores occasionally broken by the sound and following stink of a fart. Beer always gave Porky gas but Harry didn’t mind. He was so proud, almost like a father.

Finally pulling up outside the house on Shields Lane, the five of them got out, Porky unsteady on his feet singing “You say poe-tato, I say Potarto…” He’d had a lot to drink and was quite drunk but Algy and Harry got him inside and, stripped down to his Y fronts, tossed him in bed. Algy following him soon after.

Harry refreshed the dogs water bowl and gave them each a pat as they settled into the big wicker basket by the fire place. The two of them snuggled up together as always.

“Mates. What would we do without mates?” Harry wondered, looking at the dogs and reviewing the day.

Harry turned off the light and went to bed himself.