Tuesday, October 25, 2011



Grandmother Maggie and Me. 1940

Most mornings I wake to the sound of early bird call.  Its usually still dark, unless old man moon is slow getting across the southern sky, fools me into believing I’ve slept in.  Depending its orbit, the moon shines right in my bedroom window, so bright I’m convinced the sun is up and its time for brekkie.  I fall for it every time.

Coincidentally though, some of my most inventive thoughts seem to surface in those early hours. Today for instance I started a ‘then’ and ‘now’ theme. 

I began pondering the size of my world and how much smaller it suddenly seemed to be.  I mean, take me back sixty, seventy years ago to Bondi Beach,  when my Grandpa of the double identity and my darling Grandma Maggie were virtually my entire universe. To small me, the world was huge, just getting to town by tram took an eternity.

My world was the general area around Sydney’s southern beaches, anywhere further afield was out of sight and out of mind...

Easy to do when you’re pint sized.


But its not the size of a town or a city I was now contemplating.  Nor was it the fact that a tram in those war years seemed to take ages to get anywhere, to my four year old mind anyway.  I mean, today,  trams that served the city well from the early 1900’s have disappeared, buses have taken their place, but I bet with Sydney’s current traffic woes it probably takes just as long, if not longer, to get from Bondi Beach, through Kings Cross to Hyde Park than it did back then.

No.  My mind was coming to grips with the way I could suddenly speak face to face with my daughter, an ocean and thousands of miles apart;  I was musing on the world’s breaking news appearing, in real time as it happens, on my computer screen, my grandson’s mobile and countless TV’s throughout the country. Shock and horror on a breakfast menu.

I was musing on a world no longer isolated by distance, where a trip in an elongated, pressurised capsule could whisk you from Sydney to Hong Kong in a matter of hours.  Where, in boarding a plane to go from Brisbane to Quito I could confidently say, one more sleep and I’m there.


Even a car ride from A to B has maintained the distance but drastically cut the time. 

My Grandfather of the dubious identity, as far as I know, owned a vehicle for only a very short time.   Nothing flash as the photo of the squashed coupe with Grandpa at the wheel showed.  Later my Dad  owned a similar, if not smaller model in Sydney, the only member of his family to ever do so, and I remember well the occasion when it conked out, and smart aleck passersby yelled at him to pick it up and put in your pocket, ya galah!

I doubt either broke any speed limits.


I think, living as I do on an island, its very easy to ignore the 6 am news, race past the front page of the morning paper,  settle on the cross words, zero in, now I’m considerably older, to the obituaries.  (As my husband says every morning without fail, see if my name’s there on the list.)

It’s very easy to live within our comfortable cocoon.  Rather pleasant actually.

My Reluctant Traveller has taken the Monkey route when it comes to following the news of the day.  He refuses to watch it on the idiot box, changes channels the minute 6pm rolls round, and never listens to the radio.  Monkey doesn’t see, nor does he listen.

So another question enters the equation.  With all this zipping about, with all this instant and disturbing global knowledge dished up on personal platters, is the world, right now, a better place to live in?

I mean, have we learned anything at all from past mistakes?

Maybe. Maybe not.

Then I jumped on my computer.  Admittedly I can’t live without it.  And there in my Gmail inbox are a few more people asking to be my Friend.  Facebook, that modern version of a giant autograph book, where people with not the slightest thing in common urge you to confess your innermost secrets.  To lay open your life to their friends, and their friend’s friends.  All complete strangers.

And again, I ask myself,  does acquiescing to Facebook’s invitations make the world a better place to be?

Maybe.  And a huge maybe not.


By now I’m putting together my breakfast.   Cereal, fruit, milk, cup of tea.  And suddenly my mind takes a detour.  On one hand I’m looking at the banana on my plate and wondering has it been genetically modified, as have most of the store bought vegetables in my frig.

But then I’m overcome by remorse and think of all the people round the world, far less fortunate than me.  Those suffering through African drought, through poverty, through neglect by government, who would think themselves fortunate indeed to have just that one single banana.  And I wonder, for them, is their world a better place to exist in?

No, of course it isn’t.


As you can see, I’m really warming up to all the beefs and misgivings that only old age can deliver.  Stick with me, I’m only just warming up.

By now though,  I’m also beginning to lose the plot.


What had I started this blog with?  Shrinkage, a world smaller, more compact, easily accessible.  Joys of the modern world.

No doubt my unconscious sleeping hours have been spent mulling over the current economic news from around the world.  The state of Europe, of Greece, of all the so called civilised nations.  The very real threat of a disastrous World Depression.   A nightmare in the making.

And I’m forced to ask myself, has all this keeping up with the Jones, all these huge wage increases and million dollar incentive rewards to the undeserving few, the real value of currency versus the make believe of easily printed paper, has all this really made the world a better place to be?

And, because I can remember my grandparents stories about the Great Depression, their suffering and the resulting world wars, I have to reply...

No maybe’s about it...a resounding No.  


This political cartoon reflects only too well the state of the economy worldwide.

Economist Adam Schwab observed only this week in his Newsletter of Oct 25 2011 ... ‘Even in the most significant sharemarket correction since the Great Depression it appears that directors have been reluctant to show any restraint in the payment of remuneration and termination payments to executives.’

Schwab was commenting on the obscene termination payment of $3million paid to the CEO of Australia’s Telstra company, Sol Trujillo.  This was a payment made in 2009, but it is indicative of a current and growing trend where bosses and top executives secure excessive pay rises in the face of mass sackings within their companies.

He cited another incident where ‘current Pacific Brands CEO Sue Morphet has been criticised for receiving a $1.2 million pay rise while planning to sack 1850 workers. 

The disease of paying fat cats in the face of a downward spiralling economy is not limited to the business world.  We  see the same happening in Government circles where parliamentarians vote themselves huge wage increases while cutting corners on essential services to the community. 


The QANTAS debate, Australia's flagship airline, once the proud holder of world wide safety records reduced overnight to ridicule in a total shutdown of all services.
And why?  Unions are disgruntled, they've tried to deal with top management and been knocked back time and again.
And why shouldn't they be angry?
the Qantas CEO amidst all this angst and controversy has voted himself a multi million pay increase.  $5million seems a tad greedy to me.
His way of dealing with the Union problem is to stop all airline services, ground the entire fleet, put countless passengers all around the world stranded and very angry indeed. !!!!!


Perhaps we need to be reminded of the Great Depression, we need to revisit the scenes of hardship and despair.  Our grandparents suffered through these times.  They went hungry, watched their children struggle to survive, lost their homes, their self respect, they went without.

Families lived rough, forced out of homes they could no longer pay rent for or keep up their payments on.  Eviction was rampant.

  Advertising bill boards may still have featured a make believe world,  but dole queues and soup kitchens were only too real.

When my Grandfather, who admittedly was inventive when it came to alternative methods of making ends meet, was forced to take to the road, he went door to door selling household stuff to housewives who could barely afford to buy. He certainly wasn’t alone, Australia’s outback was awash with men trying desperately to keep their families back home afloat.

 Carrying their belongings on their back these became known as Swagmen, forced by law to search for work or else see their families denied the dole.  There was no work, none anywhere and they survived mostly on the charity of others.

I’ve no doubt my Grandfather’s masculine vanity suffered as he joined the growing march to nowhere, but he did what he had to do.  The big question now, could we do the same.

Could we survive a world where a loaf of bread was a luxury.  Could we make a tent our home.  Could we watch our children do without.


The symptoms of disaster are staring us in the face. This love affair with size and speed...faster cars, planes... bigger, more luxurious houses, holiday homes...this throwaway generation, overnight millionaires  rewarded for hitting a ball, singing a song, pretending to be someone else.  This increasing gulf between the haves and the have not, the super rich and the pitiful poor, simply has to be brought back down to earth. 

Man must be given back his incentive to work and live and make his way in the world. Our kids must rediscover their ability to create, to reap their own harvest, to earn a decent wage, to enjoy the simple things in life. To take pride in themselves.

When one’s dreams and ambitions are no longer attainable, then life itself is no longer worth living.

The world hasn’t shrunk, our ideals have.  We’re all dancing to an increasingly faster tune where the band masters have forgotten this is the only world we have.  If, through our selfish ignorance and vanity it is destroyed, we have nowhere else to go.


Gosh,  I do apologize.  I don’t know where all this vitriol came from.  A nightmare perhaps.  Or a sudden revelation that all is not good with the world.

Consider it a septuagenarian’s version of a protest march. 

I promise to return to my normal blogs, the ones where I explore and recall the days of old, where life was just as complicated as it is now, but lived to a different, less me me me tune.  I promise.

Robyn Mortimer. 2011.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011



Stradbroke Island, where I live, is rich in traditional native folklore.  The island’s Aboriginal name is Minjerribah, and its people, the Quandamooka have lived here since long before written history.

 Over the centuries a great number of European explorers and seamen passed briefly by, Captain Cook on his voyage of discovery in 1770 and Matthew Flinders some time later.  Both made note of the island before moving on to continue their voyages.  But a lot more lesser known adventurers made land, dropped anchor and stayed.

They weren’t stupid, they obviously knew they had chanced upon a veritable paradise and they were in no hurry to leave.

The original inhabitants were made up of several tribes or clans.  They were friendly, hospitable and willing to share their island bounty.  The newcomers slowly became part of the community and in time their European and Pacific Islander names became part of the Minjerribah landscape. Their offspring married, blending with the Traditional Owners and inheriting their rights and traditions.

Unfortunately,  European newcomers on the mainland  quickly multiplied, establishing Government bureaucracies that eventually found their way to Minjerribah, swiftly changed the name to Stradbroke Island,  and then began moving the locals into Mission settlements.

Which brings me to the early 1900’s and Sam Rollands, the Dugong Man.

One of Sam Rolland’s ancestors was a South Seas Islander who met and was charmed by a woman of the Moorgumpin people of Moreton Island.  The tribe eventually crossed the narrow channel to the island of Minjerribah and there, some time later Sam married the widowed Margaret Brown whose tribal name was Miboo.

Her brood of children became his, and in years to come he would be fondly known as Grandfather Rollands, not only to his own children, but to the young Brown’s and their offspring as well.

Some years earlier Bureaucrats from the mainland, now going under the title Aboriginal Protection Association, established a Mission Station near Dunwich, naming it Myora, though locals preferred its original name, Moongalba. 

 Sam became it’s resident policeman.  A job that entitled him to a wage and a policeman’s uniform; but still left him plenty of time to maintain his orchard of 11 orange trees, nine mango trees, bananas, lemons, guavas and sweet potatoes, and still find time to hunt the dugong... 

As you can clearly see, life on Straddie, even back then was lived to a different beat of the drum.

Myora Mission, Dunwich c1906  (John Oxley library)


Dugong’s are gentle creatures, they glide through the water, calm and unhurried, diving to the sea bed to feed on grass roots.  Sailors of old mistook them  for ‘mermaids’.

Only a very few have been kept in captivity.  Sydney Aquarium staff speak of the dugong with affection, diving with them in huge tanks, they describe the mammals as highly intelligent.  ‘The dugong use their flippers like hands, they sometimes wrap their flippers around us, holding us when we dive with them.  They have a smooth skin with small bristly hairs and lots of nerve endings...and they love to be patted.’

They’re known in some countries as sea cows or even as sea pigs.  It’s said a newborn dugong looks very much like a newborn piglet.
I’ve fished the Rous Channel, not far from my Straddie home, and seen the dugongs up close beside our small boat.  They’ve left me with an awesome sense of their fragility and inquisitive nature.  Their very expression one of inquiry, questioning our presence.  The thought of killing a dugong is abhorrent to me.

And yet, I quite happily fish, reeling in small fish and large, killing them without a second thought.  Perhaps it is the huge bulk of the dugong, its human like movement as it glides through the water, it’s expression of genuine interest  that makes me want so much to protect them.

The flesh of the dugong had long been a delicacy to the Aboriginal people, its taste likened to that of pork or veal.   At one time the dugong had been present in the waters of Moreton Bay in great numbers.  Its total number perhaps something like the buffalo of North America.

Like the buffalo it too has been hunted almost, but not quite, to extinction.

When the indigenous tribes around the Australian coast hunted the dugong, nothing was wasted of the carcass.  A dugong kill meant the entire community would share the meat, the women boiling down the remainder to obtain its oil. And the oil was used as a medicine, both orally and externally.  It could be likened to cod liver oil.

It didn’t take long for mainland Europeans to cotton on to the commercial viability of the dugong.

In fact it was the Health Officer for Moreton Bay, a Dr Hobbs,  who first set up a processing works on a smaller island in the Bay in the 1850’s  to extract the oil. He also set up a fishing fleet with the express aim of netting as many dugong as possible. And they did, staying out weeks at a time until enough dugong carcasses had been accumulated to produce 70 barrels of oil from a single expedition.

For Dr Hobbs the result was pure gold.

He began touting the oil as a cure all for everything from asthma to TB.  Hobbs may have believed he was the first to recognize its curative properties, but the indigenous people right round Australia had beaten him to it.  They  had been utilising the oil long before Cook even discovered Australia.

Hobbs Dugong Oil was an instant success, outlets all over the world began selling his product.  The Dugong Oil from the little factory on St Helena Island in Moreton Bay even won top awards at London and Paris Expositions.

In the end, for Hobbs  his fishing of the dugong proved his undoing.  The workers on the boats, clearly with an eye to quick profits began throwing in shark liver to swell the quantity,  a greedy practice that lowered the quality of the oil.

By the end of the mid 1800’s, the oil’s trade and consumption had ceased in Europe and the doctor’s business venture came to an end.

Sam Rollands however operated on a smaller scale, purely for his people and friends; he netted when the meat and the oil was needed.

...the community gathered to meet the boat(Oxley library)
As one resident recalled...’it was like a red letter day for everyone when Grandfather Rollands caught a dugong.  He would hoist a red flag on his boat, the Rona,  to tell people he was bringing one back.  When everyone at the mission and around Dunwich saw the flag they’d all rush down to the waters edge  waiting for him to come in.’

Another remembered ...’boiling the nose and different parts of the dugong for the oil that Grandfather Rollands used to sell.  He cured the meat, making it into bacon, and it did taste like the bacon from pork.  All the little kids would get the innards, we called it ‘garrumping’.

Where others used harsh and inhumane methods to kill the dugong, Sam favoured a gentle approach, netting the dugong first, bringing it alongside the boat and softly covering the breathing holes with a hessian bag.

Another Myora resident, a youngster at the time recalled ‘going out with Grandfather Sammy Rollands and Uncle Bob Campbell off Amity, catching two dugong in their nets.’
Bob Gregory and Dolph Campbell, Amity c 1940 (photo Gregory family)

Polio, or Infantile Paralysis was once the scourge of the world, with frequent epidemics either killing many victims  or rendering them unable to walk, or even to breathe normally.

A present day Elder on Straddie, Aunty Rose Borey, remembers her elder siblings in the 1930’s struck down with polio and their mother lathering their limbs with the dugong oil,  alternating  with hot salt water baths.   They survived with no after effects.

Sam Rollands proudly kept a letter he received, from Sister Kenny, requesting a supply of dugong oil for her ongoing work with polio patients.

Sydney (Kindara) Rollands – Sam’s mother.
Sam Rollands though, wasn’t admired by his peers for the dugong catches alone. Over the years  he established a rapport with the Chief Protector of the time, John Bleakley.  When a voice was needed to settle a dispute with officialdom, it was Sam who did the negotiating, communicating either by letter or in person.  

His mother,   Sydney Rollands, Kindara her childhood name, one of the Amity Point Elders mentioned by the Historian, Thomas Welsby, as his dear friends, received an education on the mainland.  Her son would feature in many jousts with the Government Teaching Board, as the Myora community battled a succession of closures, neglect and petty wrangling.

The Chief Protector who became his friend, John Bleakley, valued and respected Sam to such an extent he waived repayments to the Department for his house. And when, at the age of 80, the old gentleman was informed by a local official that he would need a permit to continue dugong fishing, Sam took his complaint to the Chief Protector.

The local official was immediately over ruled.


Grandfather Sammy Rollands continued living at Myora, tending his garden and fishing the Bay for dugong until his death in 1936 at the age of 85.  His wife Granny Miboo, the former Margaret Thompson predeceased him in 1932.

 Robyn Mortimer ©2011

Wednesday, October 12, 2011



Two months ago (at the time of writing), I published the story of Uncle Pat and Aunty Margaret Iselin,  two dearly loved and admired Elders of North Stradbroke Island.

In that story you read about their life together on Straddie, the Island known to their Aboriginal ancestors as Minjerribah, about Pat’s thirty five years working in the sand mining industry, first as a boilermaker and finally as the company’s maintenance engineer.

You read about his love of the island and its people, the childhood he spent fishing and tumbling about in the waters surrounding his island home, the brumbys, wild ponies, he and his mates caught and tamed.

You met their five children, Christine, Patricia, twins Mary and Brian and Darryl.  I hinted at the growing number of grandchildren and great grandchildren.

I knew time was short for Pat and I spent every moment I could with him, jotting down his memories, his thoughts.

Now I must say a final, sad farewell to my friend, my history teacher.
Thank him for all the wonderful stories he told me about Straddie and its origin, about his many, many years with the love of his life, Margaret.

His last journey across the Bay, back home to Straddie, on Friday September 23rd unfolded like no other Friday ...


13.03.1930 – 16.09.2011

On a crisp September morning, the sun shining on the waters of Moreton Bay, Uncle Pat Iselin made his last  trip home to Stradbroke. His family was with him. 

To a solemn and slow beat his cortege was ushered onto the Stradbroke Ferries barge with all the due ceremony and respect this gentle man deserved. Flags on board the barge were lowered to half mast.

The tourist throng in their holiday laden cars held back, the enormity of the occasion obvious to all.

The trip back to Dunwich, to lay him at rest among his people, reflected the 81 years of his life, the long eventful history of his beloved Minjerribah.

On the Island, the crowds gathered. The hall packed to overflowing.

Eulogies were read, tears fell. 

In the great hushed hall, mourners stood along the walls, the over flow spreading outside.  Not a murmur was heard as his family and friends said their final goodbyes.

And then everyone joined together in a huge group outside the hall, following the cortege as Uncle Pat made his last journey through the streets of Dunwich, to the cemetery by the bay.

Stores closed their doors,  traffic was halted. As we marched we each remembered his life and his times in our own individual way.

It wasn't surprising to see Pat's young great grandsons had found the best seats in the Cemetery, climbing the banksia trees above the grave site to witness the service.  Somehow I could imagine a young Patrick doing the very same thing, hovering above the proceedings, trying to understand the grown ups grief.

The wheels of history turn slowly, especially in the beautiful surrounds of the Dunwich Cemetery where its progress is there for everyone to see.

Goodbye Pat.  I will sorely miss our history lessons.


Two last glimpses show best the measure of this unassuming man. 

This special message of love and appreciation was read at the service by Wendy Iselin...

Dad, for over 35 years I’ve had the privilege of calling you Dad.  You have shown me what a Dad is.  When you spoke everyone listened, you never spoke harshly or cruelly but with quiet authority.  Your priority in life was your wife and family but you were always there for your extended family, friends or anyone who needed help.

You instilled in your children good work ethics, pride, respect, tolerance and courtesy to others and this is carried on through to your grand-children.  You are a true gentleman, the most caring and loving man I’ve ever known.  I am so proud to be able to call you my Dad too.  I will miss you dearly, but never forget you. 

Love always, Wendy.

And this happened just a few short weeks before Pat passed away..
Pat’s last years, health wise, were not pleasant.  Though constantly in pain and discomfort he never complained, but made his many trips back and forth to doctors on the mainland, excursions that took him away from his beloved Straddie, ones he would rather not have to make.

On one of his last visits the doctors urged him to stay overnight in the mainland hospital. They were concerned about his condition, didn’t want him to make the long, stressful journey home to the island.

Pat would have none of it.  No he didn’t want to stay in the hospital, no there was no use arguing.

‘I can’t stay over here’, he told medical staff. ‘Margaret’s waiting for me at home, I can’t leave her there all alone.’



Pat and Margaret - their Wedding Day 1949

Patsy, twins Mary and Brian and Christine
Picnic in the bush with son Brian and mate Arthur Borey

Pat and daughters Christine and Patsy, with his father Jim Iselin
Friends and family, a cool day on the beach
Celebrating yet another Anniversary with Brian, Christine, Patricia, Mary and Darryl
Great Grandfather Pat's little tree climbers.



Robyn Mortimer 2011

Thursday, October 6, 2011



Cartoonist Alec Gurney created Bluey and Curly, two Aussie Larrikins of the war years – a close resemblance to my two, but obviously not them.

For years now various friends have been urging me to write about their, and other’s,  many weird and wonderful escapades.  I’ve resisted because many of these  stories have dubious content and I’m not quite sure where the Statute of Limitations begins and ends  in relation to breaking the law. 

Very minor offences I hasten to add. More like school boy pranks.  Truly. 

And because the stories heavily involve the very people who are doing the urging I feel one of us should at least try to protect  and uphold what little is left of their tattered, though legendary reputations.

I’ve come to the conclusion the only way to get round these little battles with my conscience is to cloak their identity in anonymity, allot different names; change entirely the scene of their crimes, invent another paradise altogether, that I will call Dun Roaming.



The town speaks for itself, it’s name indicates a population of residents who all started life elsewhere, well a lot of the townsfolk anyway:  There is a resident hard core of incredibly respectable inhabitants whose families go back well before the days of Captain Cook, and what they make of the Lovable Larrikin newcomers is anybody’s guess.

I think the first time I realised this little community had an even slightly larcenous background  was when I sighted a tough little bush pony casually tied to a signpost in the local cemetery that clearly read, HORSES AND STOCK NOT ALLOWED  IN THE CEMETERY, signed Town Council.

That, and the funeral party  on the barge bringing a coffin back to Dun Roaming for a family burial to the accompaniment of esky loads of beer, almost prepared me for the ‘laugh a minute’ life that lay ahead.



I though it best, under the circumstances, not to publish their true identity, this though is pretty close to the real thing!

When the world thinks Australia, they visualise an Aussie bloke downing a stubbie of beer, and they’re not far wrong.  For most Aussie men beer is what makes their world go round.

For years our local pubs... hotels, saloons for you more gentrified readers, were the bastions of their manhood.  Women were forbidden to enter the public bar and had to be content with sitting demurely in the lounge area where most times they could hear the raucous noise made by their better halves, but remained unseen to them and therefore out of mind.

Women’s Lib put a stop to that.

Not that it ever really mattered in Dun Roaming, the blokes there had the Chook House and no self respecting female ever wanted to be seen inside its cavernous walls, much less pause to partake its amber liquid.

My personal Larrikin was a Johnny come lately to the town.  He had already amassed his own private history of escapades back in the big smoke and probably thought there was nothing new the country blokes could show him.

How wrong he was. 

Two sets of hands,Two sets of legs, but only one set belongs to one of the other Larrikins...

It’s not easy to dream up new names for these characters, their own tell the story much better, but sensibilities dictate the need.  And my gut instinct tells me someone has to protect them from themselves.

Anyway Clever and Sparky were just part of the Dun Roaming clique of like minded souls.  All of them were mates,  they fished together, drank together, got up to mischief together.  When my bloke the City Slicker turned up, they gingerly at first, admitted him to their ranks.

Now Slicker knew a few things the country fellahs didn’t.  For a start he had the evident few years advantage on them.  Not all that much mind you, but the wisdom of age did come with a certain wariness and respect for the law. 

I mean my Slicker knew the cops had a job to do, without them there would  be anarchy on a gigantic scale, and if you were going to drink excessively then you did it in private, in inaccessible venues. Out in the bush, somewhere off the beaten track. Inside your own four walls.

 Or else you had a responsible someone always ready at the wheel when your vehicle touched back onto bitumen.

Clever Mick and Sparky were also extremely community minded.  Always ready to help out a mate, fix a flat tire, replace a blown light bulb, fill in when the regular driver couldn’t work the Meals on Wheels job.

I wonder, do any of you observant readers see where this story is heading?


You could say these two are right larrikins, but they’re still not the Clever Mick or Sparky of this story...

Up to now, I must admit, their escapades had been relegated to a more harmless Runyon scale.  I’m sure most of you will have heard of, or read, or even seen Damon Runyon classics like Guys and Dolls.  You haven’t?

Think then John Travolta in Get Shorty, or Danny de Vito, or heaven help us the hapless mob of It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World...


When the emergency call came through Clever and Sparky were already well on the way.  What do you mean, ‘what do I mean’? 

They’d already downed a few, emptied a few cans, sampled the local beer and what have you.  There was a gleam in their eye accompanied by the reckless desire to continue imbibing.

This I might add in the early mid morning following what should have been a full and long night shift at the establishment that helped pay their household bills.

Don’t get me wrong here.  Both Clever Mick and Sparky were highly thought of by their respective bosses, absolute whizz kids at their jobs.  In time they would actually become top bosses themselves, but that unbelievable future, at this stage is still in the realms of make believe.

But to get back to the Custard Caper.

Then came the call, the phone call.  Obviously being the clever little detectives you all are, you’ve placed the time frame in the era of mobile phones.  Barely in that era I might add.

The gist of the phone call?  The driver who usually delivered the three course Meals on Wheels to Dun Roaming and it’s satellite towns had done himself an injury, could they take over, just for today until a replacement was found?

‘No worries’, said Clever, ‘I’ve got my mate with me, we’ll do it standing on our head.’

Of course the Meals on Wheels supervisor didn’t realise Clever Mick was speaking literally.

They arrived in the company truck, I did mention this was a work day, a normal work day that up to that point had been conducted in a fairly normal routine manner.  Albeit of course, by now they should really have been clocking off.  It had after all been a hard days night and not all of it working.

Anyway all the Meals on Wheels gear was duly loaded on the back, together with a list of where to go, which old dear was to get which meal, the idiosyncrasies of some, special needs of others.  A piece of cake observed Sparky.

They did Dun Roaming first, the customers all knew them. ‘G’day Mick, how ya doing Sparky?  Fish biting?’...all that chitchat.  Soup Bowls, meat and three veg, bowl of custard, names crossed off the list, on to the next address.

The next community was much the same, only a few, all eagerly waiting their main meal of the day.

Then came the 15 minute drive to the last satellite town. 

By now they’ve worked up a fresh thirst.  The esky in the back seat is empty, but there’s a pub at the next town so no worries, replacement supply in sight.

Going through the S bends they’re in a jovial mood, the radio’s on, they’re singing country and western, when suddenly, out of the bush darts a little wallaby.

Clever hits the brakes, does a little swerve, the wallaby hops away safe and sound, but in the back of the truck the meals on wheels, unknown to the two volunteers, are now sloshing about in an interesting and murky mix, leaving a trail of containers and equipment behind.

When they finally reach their next delivery,  Clever takes one look in the back of the truck and is understandably speechless.

‘Crikey’.   Sparky looks at the mess.  He probably used a few other Aussie euphemisms but I’m too lady like to put them in print. 

Clever Mick is suitably wide eyed by now, but heavily in denial mode.

‘Gee, it’s not too bad Sparks.  All we have to do is shovel the stuff back into the containers and no one will know any different’.

‘You think so?’  Sparky’s not too sure.  Of the two,  he  may have been the more clear headed.

‘Trust me.  Quick, get a move on before someone drives past.’

Somehow, slurpy soup is separated from  trembling custard,  an approximation of meat and three veg replaced on dishes.  They stand back, looking with pride on their handiwork. 

‘Um Mick’... Sparky is busy counting and recounting meals against recipients and slowly realising all doesn’t quite equate. 

Clever does a finger count, and biting his nails, has to agree.


Thirteen into eight.  They’re short five meals.

Clever Mick’s mind is darting each and every way.  An executive decision is needed.  Like the Sword of Damocles, he delivers his edict.  (Haven’t read your bible lately? Think imminent disaster.)

‘So some of them go on a diet. Its only for one day. We’ll give a couple soup and custard and the others can have the meat and veg stuff.  They won’t know the difference.’

The end result looks unspeakably like an unkempt dogs dinner.  But the deed is done,  deliveries swiftly made with a low degree of eye contact and the two make a swift, dry return back to Dun Roaming.

If any of the meals recipients made a complaint, Clever and Sparky never heard a dickey. 

Come on, you know what that means, dickey bird, not a word! 

Passersby in the interim must have wondered though, at the mess of cardboard boxes and containers strewn along the S bends. 

One eagle eye in particular was a local oyster farmer on his way home from a mornings work out on the bay, who couldn’t quite believe the treasure trove he stopped to collect, knives and forks and spoons festooned along the highway.

He dined out on that story for ever more, which is more than the old timers did on that last lap of Sparky and Clever Mick's delivery route.  


Okay! I surrender.  While I won’t reveal their true identity, I will admit this final snapshot is much akin to the Larrikins of Dun Roaming.

...and no, the rather tall fishy character in the middle is neither Clever nor Sparky.

And there ends yet another tall tale, and true  from the make believe but totally believable community of Dun Roaming.

The Loveable Larrikins, many years later, continue to amuse and scare me to death, sometimes both at the same time and I wouldn't have it any other way.


Robyn Mortimer ©2011