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Just Another Weekend in Molong

Story by Warrigal Mirriyuula

Harry was in the shop holding the fort for Saturday morning while Porky did the deliveries in the little Anglia van. The Runt, in the passenger seat, paws up on the dash, was eagerly enjoying the adventure. Of course he never went further than the front gate while Porky dropped off the customers’ meat, anxiously circling and sniffing, awaiting Porky’s return and the resumption of the drive. 

Back at Shields Lane, Algy’s head was feeling much better and his vision had cleared. He hadn’t had a headache for a few days and, although the stitches itched like the dickens, he felt he was well on the mend. Mongrel had been by his side all week and Algy had begun to feel like the dog was a real friend.    

Having done his Saturday jobs and helped out at The Pantheon during the lunch trade, young George Cassimatty proudly pulled his Dad’s new Victa Rotomo out of the shed. It was brand new, all shiny green with a big silver “VICTA” on the red boomerang badge, and his dad had said he was only letting young George use it after he’d been taught all about its safe operation.  

It was pretty easy really. You just turned the petrol on, pulled the choke out, put the knotted end of the rope in the hole, wound the rope around the crank wheel and pulled. Simple really, and the only bit George took away from the lesson, as he pushed the mower around to Mrs Bell’s house, was his father’s stern warning. “Keep your feet away from the back of it. This thing‘ll have your toes off in a trice.”

Hearing this Yaya had said the mower was the work of the devil and warned young George that taking the easy way was the beginning of a slippery slope. He should take the old push mower. It would make a man of him.

“Yaya, this is the future.” George’s father said, so very proud of his new mower, and so very proud of his son, “George is going to be that future, he’s got to learn some time.”

Yaya remained unimpressed and while mother and son worked out their differences in the usual Greek way, George had set off for Mrs. Bell’s house to cut her grass and maybe have some more of those lime iced butterfly cakes.

After a rushed greeting from Mrs. Bell, who had said that she had forgotten that young George was coming, George set to the task at hand, making sure he kept his feet well back. 

He’d thought it a little odd that Mrs Bell hadn’t invited him in, but he hadn’t thought much more about it until he was raking up the grass clippings and barrowing them down to spread under the nectarine tree by the school fence. He stopped to wipe his brow and had looked back up to the house. He was surprised to see one of the lace curtains in the sleep-out suddenly pulled closed. The mystery had deepened a little when George, having finished, knocked on the back door. Maybe now Mrs. B would offer the lime iced butterfly cakes.

Instead she had stopped in the doorway, hurriedly thanked him and pressed a shilling into his hand. George had protested, saying he hadn’t done it for the money, but Mrs. Bell wouldn’t hear of it. If George didn’t want the shilling he should donate it to a worthy cause or put it in the plate on Sunday, but she was going to pay him for his work. Mrs. Bell was adamant that she was not a charity case.

George reluctantly accepted that donation was a good idea and left off trying to give the shilling back. His dad was always saying, “If you’ve a spare ‘bob’ or two in your pocket and can help somebody in need, do it.” But George would have preferred the butterfly cakes. 

Perhaps sensing George’s disappointment, Mrs. Bell promised cakes and cordial next time. She just couldn’t manage it today. George thought she sounded a little disappointed too. She was a likeable old stick when all was said and done. George thanked Mrs. Bell and asked her to say g’day to Tinker for him, he’d be back in a few weeks.

As he was pushing the mower up the side of the house George would have sworn he heard Mrs Bell inside, talking with someone, another old lady it sounded like; and though he couldn’t make out what they were saying, it sounded urgent and intimate, the way George’s parents sometimes sounded when the house had gone quiet and they thought they were the only ones awake. George always found his parent’s murmuring reassuring at home, but here, today, in the bright Saturday sunshine, this just sounded mysterious.

Who did Mrs Bell have with her? And why had she not wanted George to see her?

By the time George got the mower home, cleaned off the matted grass, paying special attention to the white walls on the wheels, and was giving the machine a quick rub down with light mineral oil like his dad had said, the mystery was all but forgotten, evaporating away with the 2 stroke fumes and the smell of mashed grass. George had more pressing concerns. He and a mate were going yabbying down on Molong Creek.

It was a quiet afternoon at The Telegraph, just a few punters in. Clarrie was catching up on the news in The Sydney Morning Herald, its broad sheets spread out across the bar. The ABC was broadcasting the Sheffield Shield from Adelaide Oval, the Crow Eaters versus the Sandgropers. The smart money was on WA to win, but SA’s slow left armer, Johnny Wilson, looked dangerous. A casual game of darts started up and every now and then Clarrie had to pull the odd schooner for one of the patrons. 

Beryl and Jenny were upstairs in the flat enjoying some mother and daughter time together, doing sewing repairs on the dining room linen and gossiping. Little Bill had taken off with Porky to the baths for his first swimming lesson. 

When Porky had called to pick him up, young Bill proudly told his Mum he was going to swim in the Olympics and bring her home a gold medal. Beryl and Porky had to laugh at the little bloke’s earnest conviction. Little Bill didn’t like them laughing at him and, putting his tiny fists on his hips, said, “You see if I don’t!”

Porky, deciding that having a big dream wasn’t such a bad thing, got down on his haunches and said to Bill, “Well little mate, first you’re gonna have to float before ya can swim, so whaddaya say? Let’s get cracking.”

It was like any other Saturday on Bank Street. The morning had been busy with shoppers, the street parked out with farm utes, most with a dog in the back; and the locals’ sedans, a few of which also had dogs on the rear parcel shelf. Not real dogs of course, the nodding kind. Not much of a guard dog but certainly able to nod an affirmative to anybody following behind, though what they were affirming would forever remain a mystery. 

Round at Terry Perks’ garage the big AMPOL tanker was pumping fresh fuel into the underground tanks. Terry’s Rottweiler Ronnie was making up to the driver, playing feint and hide round the trucks rear dual bogie, barking his silly head off. Just another Saturday.

As the sun reached over into the west Bank street cleared of cars, excepting the clusters round The Telegraph and The Freemasons, the occasional customer at Hang Seng’s. The day wained quietly, peacefully.

In a small country town there are few rules and regulations. Most everybody knows everybody else, who’s up who and who hasn’t paid, and its just courtesy to keep out of other people’s business.

There are homes, and institutions, businesses and services that are the machine of the town, the mechanism whereby the town supports itself and grows into the future and they represent what the people are, what they do and how they feel about life every day. 

There are also a few places in every town that are different. They represent the hopes of the town and how the people feel about themselves, their families and friends and the future. These are special places, approached with a kind of reverence, or what passes for it in a country town.

These are the places where the entire town comes together to speak and act as one, to seek inclusion and identification, create consensus and the sense of belonging to a place; and it’s fair to say these places represent the heart and soul of the town. 

Molong was no exception to this apparent rule. The town was proud of its churches and its faith, it supported its schools and hospital and while the council chamber was often in heated uproar, none the less the people believed in their local institutions. 

But perhaps there is no more defining place, no more important venue for determining how a town looks to the future, than its sporting facilities and the membership of the community sporting clubs that use those facilities. 

Even in the midst of drought water will be found for the cricket pitch, when wool and wheat prices are low and club coffers are empty, the town will still reach into its already depleted pockets.

So it was that after church on Sunday morning the focus in Molong turned to the Memorial Grounds for the continuing titanic battle between The Molong Cricket Club, known locally and without a hint of irony as the MCC, and their closest rivals in the local competition, The Bushrangers from Canowindra. Ben Hall would have been proud of the Canowindra team. They played like outlaws and were never more daring than during their attempts to bail up Molong.

The sides were pretty evenly matched and both teams saw their encounters as being outside the normal run of the competition, more like slanging and sledging matches really, and that always guaranteed a big turn out of locals.

Algy and Harry had used the Anglia van to transport the barbecue over to the oval and then got all the kids, who were always keen to be involved, collecting up the fallen wood from under the trees. By about 10:30 the sticks were crackling and the hot plate smoking as Harry did a bit of last minute butchery and enjoyed a weak shandy. Harry wasn’t a drinker.

The players were out on the field for the toss. Up went the Florin, glinting in the sun, arced over and fell to the ground. It was Molong’s call and they had elected to bat. 

More people were gathering now, the early arrivers snatching the best shady spots and setting themselves up for a good day of cricket.

The Bushrangers got their field sorted as Algy and Chook took to the crease, padded and gloved. The Umpire gave the nod and the game commenced.

The pride of Canowindra’s quicks loped in for the first delivery of Molong’s innings. It had all the speed and intimidation he could put into it.  The ball flew from his hand and he had trouble keeping his balance without falling flat on the pitch, his flailing recovery not distracting Porky though, even for a moment. 

Porky’s eye never left the ball and in the fraction of a second it took to arrive, Porky had smoothly stepped forward, tipped onto the back foot and walloped a masterful pull shot away over behind deep square leg; it was all speed and air, away for a six. The clapping started even before the ball skidded onto the grass just the other side of the boundary rope. 

It was the beginning of a great innings for Porky and, feeling a bit cocky, he acknowledged the crowd with a twist of his lofted bat. Even a couple of the Canowindra blokes in the outfield joined the applause. 

At the non-striker’s end, Chook threw his head back and laughed, thinking Porky just a little full of himself. Looking over at the Molong supporters lounging in the shade round the pavilion, Chook pointed at Porky as if to say, “Did you see that?” and shaking his head, he wondered if he could do as well against his first delivery. 

He soon had his chance to find out. Porky had blocked a short delivery away for a quick single.

Chook’s first shot, a low sweeper, lacked the athletic brilliance of Porky’s six but it had a certain homely shine on it and looked like it might go for four.

The ball was running away to the boundary at Deep Third Man, chased by two determined Canowindra fieldsmen. Mongrel jumped up from beside Algy and went after it too, like his life depended on it; The Runt, jumping out from under Harry’s empty deck chair, set off in hot pursuit. He couldn’t match Mongrel’s speed but he gave it his best.

The Canowindra fieldsman, running from Deep Cover, got to the ball first, diving for it as it neared the rope. He just managed to stop the four but couldn’t get up and return the ball before Porky and Chook had run three, getting Chook on the board.

There was some desultory applause from the crowd and Mongrel and The Runt joined in, directing some canine sledging, a quick mouthful of happy snappy barking, at the Canowindra fieldsman who’d stopped the ball. He turned and barked back at the dogs, sitting a surprised Mongrel on his bum, but setting The Runt off yapping and growling. The fieldsman laughed at the little dog and that just seemed to make it worse. Mongrel, perhaps enduring the dog equivalent of embarrassment, stood up and shook himself off. 

He barked at the fieldsman’s back, just one bark, pitched somewhere between anger and uncertainty, before returning to the pavilion and Algy via the outfield, The Runt trotting beside him with the occasional growling look back.

As Porky’s and Chook’s opening partnership beat the bowlers and rolled inexorably over the Canowindra fieldsmen, the discussion round the keg under the trees turned to the story of the week, the dead bloke found out at MacGuire’s last Monday. 

As will happen when these matters crop up in a small country town, the bush telegraph had somewhat embellished the tale and by the time discussion under the trees began in earnest it ranged from an outrageously overblown tale of neo Nazi’s dealing with one of their own, to a huge sheep duffing conspiracy that encompassed the entire Central West. 

It was supposed that the neo Nazi theory was based, in some small part at least, on the simple fact that Gruber had become involved. It was completely implausible, “I mean, sure, Gruber’s German, but an abo Nazi…? Nahhhh!” It was just unbelievable and was peremptorily dismissed as the product of an over fertile imagination. Sheep duffing however was much more plausible, even likely; particularly with the rain green pastures filling up with spring lambs gambolling the days away. “They’re just there for the taking.”

Chook’s innings came to an end, caught behind for 36. There was no shame in that as Chook walked off and joined the rest of the team around the pavilion. The new batsman, Jimmy Hang Seng, joined Porky in the middle. 

“Look out, its Foo Manchu!” sledged a Bushranger, but Jimmy just smiled and gave him the two finger salute. Within a few deliveries he had settled in and he and Porky continued slamming the Bushrangers.

Off field, discussions around the dead man had reached a kind of impasse with proponents of differing theories unable to proceed without further information. Two delegates from the main theoretical teams were chosen and they made their way over to Chook. They wanted the guts and Chook was the only one with the knowledge. The Express had a Front Page Special planned for Monday, so for the time being it had been gossip and confabulation. Only Chook had what they needed.

The two delegates surreptitiously gestured for Chook to join them around the side of the pavilion. These were matters best discussed under cover.

Chook joined them with a look of enquiry, “What’s up? You blokes look like a coupla B Grade film villains, lurking for no good purpose.”

“Yeah, well, this dead bloke.” It was one of the men who worked at the limestone quarry on the ridge at the back of the town. Not usually one to let on that he wasn’t fully clued in to everything that was going on about; his left eye, which had a flickering tick when he was stressed, confirmed the importance of their purpose today. 

“What’s the guts Chook? “What’s it all about mate. I mean, we hear that this bloke’s dead and there’s somethin’ hooky about the thing, and what about the wives? Are they safe? I mean, Chook, it’s a public safety thing see?”

“Oorrr, calm down pally!” Chook had to smile at the two of them. They’d obviously blown the thing up and now Chook had to administer the pin to burst their bubble. “I can’t tell you anything. Its an ongoing enquiry; an’ anyway, if you can wait until t’morra The Express has got all that I could tell ya. But I will say this. The wives and daughters are perfectly safe. We’re all perfectly safe. The incident seems to have nothing to do with anything here in town.”

“Somebody said the stiff was an abo. That right…?

Chook snorted with irritation, then shook his head. “The Express, tomorrow. That’s all I can say, really.” He gave them his copper’s stern look. Somewhat taken aback they turned and ambled off, muttering to one another; the quarry worker looking back at Chook briefly, uncertainly. 

Chook turned to rejoin the rest of the team lounging around the front of the pavilion. As he did so he spied someone sitting on a chair in the deep shade of the trees way over on the eastern side of the oval. Chook felt a twinge of uncomfortable unconscious curiosity and looked more closely. He couldn’t quite make out the person, or the scene, so deep was the shade. He tried to  clear his vision, shading his eyes with his hand; and then he recognised who it was, and the easel, and the box of pens and brushes. 

Chook just lost it again. It was Miss Hynde from The Pines, and while Chook had certainly spent the early part of the week unable to get her out of his mind, he had managed to keep the insistent memories of his brief visit last Monday evening to a minimum for the last couple of days; and now here she was again and Chook was just as discombobulated as he has been at their first meeting. He goosebumped remembering the gentle grip of her hand on his forearm as he had departed the glowing cottage. He saw again the two lithe statuettes and the screaming man in her shed, and the way she had smiled at him. Full of knowing. Deep down inside of himself he knew she knew who he was, probably better than he knew himself. Well, maybe not; but she knew something.

Chook walked a few awkward steps in Miss Hynde’s direction, then suddenly lowered and shook his head, turning back, and then turning back again to look over to the shade under the trees. A few of his mates were watching him. They could see that he was distracted, confused, maybe even distressed….

“You right Chook?” one asked in a tone that implied that whatever was going through Chook’s mind, it must be foolishness. Chook had a reputation as a rock, not easily displaced.

Chook snapped back to look at the bloke. “Yeah….., yeah I’m orright. I just…., look, yeah look….,I’ll be back in a bit. I just gotta go over ……, back soon….”

As the blokes looked at one another shrugging, Chook made off around the oval fence in the direction of Miss Hynde; each step increased his uncertainty as surely as each step found him more ridiculously happy. Chook had it in mind to tell Miss Hynde exactly what she did to him.